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Friday, September 28, 2018


I spent most of yesterday watching the Judiciary Committee hearings, and in this post, I am going to try to make sense of them.  What follows is my amateur opinion.  It differs from everything I have heard and read about the hearing, so it may be of interest.

First of all, I believe Christine Blasey Ford’s account.  I am certain that she suffered the experience she described, and I am certain that she is not mistaken about the identity of the two persons in the room.  If you reject these judgments, then you will probably prefer to navigate to some other blog.

Well, do I think then that Brett Kavanaugh is lying?  The reality, I suggest, is a great deal more complex, and it will take me a while to explain.  The keys to understanding the truth lie in Kavanaugh’s testimony, in its words, but also in his self-presentation.  To keep this reasonably short, I am going to simply state my conclusions without extended background justifications.  Take them for what they are worth.

Brett Kavanaugh was born into an extremely conventional upper middle-class Catholic family, and as a boy he was under enormous parental pressure to be a Good Boy.  This meant being polite to adults, embracing sports, mobilizing his considerable psychic energy and his considerable intelligence to do well, as that is conventionally understood, in school.  He went to Church regularly, as regularly, to quote his testimony, as brushing his teeth.  He palled around with boys and girls in happy, cheerful Leave it To Beaver style, systematically denying his sexuality in ways that were deeply painful.  His every action was a public performance, an affirmation of the part of him that would garner praise from parents, teachers, coaches, and priests.  He was a Good Boy.

This is, psychodynamically, a volatile mixture.  Kavanaugh was constantly under extreme pressure to repress his sexual [and also aggressive] urges.  His reward for this painful pressure was praise, approval, high grades, and all the other overt public rewards that his social milieu had to offer.

Kavanaugh was hardly alone in this set of circumstances, needless to say, nor are they peculiar to young Catholics, although the particular form they take does have religious, ethnic, and economic roots.  This is, after all, the stuff of a hundred, nay a thousand, American novels.

Kavanaugh drank beer.  As he said repeatedly in his testimony, he drank beer, he liked beer, he still likes beer.  It is not at all an accident that it is beer, not hard liquor, that he drank.  He was not a solitary drinker [this is an absolutely crucial point, as we shall see.]  He drank beer with his buddies, his male friends.  When he drank, he experienced a momentary relief from the crushing psychic repression that defined his emotional makeup.  When he drank, his sexual and aggressive urges achieved some expression.  And under the influence of beer, which he regularly drank to excess, he became belligerent, sexually aggressive toward women.

But it is a striking and enormously significant fact that he became belligerent and sexually aggressive toward women in the presence of other men.  Indeed, his drunken behavior was as much a performance for the benefit of those men as it was an expression of any sort of desire for the women.  Listen closely to the astonishingly accurate, revealing, and precise testimony of Christine Blasey Ford.  Brett Kavanaugh and Mark Judge, she tells us, were laughing uproariously as Brett assaulted her.  They were laughing with each other, having a good time with each other. 

Compare this with what we know of many of the sexual predators who have been called to account by the #MeToo Movement.  Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and all the rest.  They committed their assaults in private, and the focus of their acts was their sexual victim.

Not Brett Kavanaugh.  In a Fox News interview, and then in his Senate testimony, Kavanaugh says he was a virgin in High School and for some years thereafter.  He was a Good Boy.  I believe him.  I do not think he was actually trying to rape Christine Blasey in that room, and if by some accident he had managed to rip her clothes off, I think it is entirely possible that he would not have known quite what to do next.  He and Mark Judge were laughing with each other, having a good time with each other.

The accounts of Kavanaugh’s Freshman Yale roommate and of other victims make it clear that, as we would expect, he did not change his basic psychological makeup when he graduated from prep school. 

Brett Kavanaugh is a Good Boy.  He has done everything that was demanded of him as a boy, and has been spectacularly successful.  Now, the entire enormously painful psychologically demanding series of inner repressions and compromises on which his entire life has been built is being called into question by the public revelation of that repressed side, that back side, that hidden side of his psyche.  His testimony yesterday was a desperate, impassioned, terrified cry:  I AM A GOOD BOY.  To deny him the Supreme Court seat is to tell him that those sacrifices, repressions, and denials were for naught. 

Christine Blasey Ford was telling the truth.  But so was Brett Kavanaugh.  Not about the actual incident.  He was telling the truth as he genuinely believes it.  He is a Good Boy.


s. wallerstein said...

Your comment that if you do not believe that Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth and Kavanaugh is lying about the actual incident, you should go to another blog puzzles me.

I have no idea which of them is lying. I'd need to examine the evidence in a lot more detail to decide which of them is. I hope that Kavanaugh is rejected because he is rightwing pig, not because he may be lying.

In my 55 or so years on the left I've learned that the left lies as much as the right does. I'm not on the left because I believe that it lies less, but because there is a class struggle, a gender struggle, a racial struggle, etc., and in all those cases I'm on the side of the oppressed, of workers, of women, of black people, etc..

As you so wisely point out in other posts, it's a "which side are you on" question, not a question of who is lying. We're on the same side: that's why I read your blog.

David Auerbach said...

Here's what Corey Robin says (which is totally compatible with the individual psychopathology): "Beyond whatever was self-serving and pure lies in Kavanaugh's testimony yesterday, what we saw—the operatic rage, the contempt, the tears, the fury, the hauteur, the blinking anxiety—was the expression of one of the experiences that I tried to identify in my book as being at the heart of conservatism: not just loss, but felt loss. And not just ambient sorrow but a militant avowal of desired recovery. When conservatism is in its ascendancy, it is able to connect that particular feeling of loss, the loss of one social class, to a more universal constituency. When it is in retreat, it has a much more difficult time making that sense of loss speak across the population, of making it travel far and wide. In the coming weeks and months, we'll see which of the two situations we're in."

Dean said...

Similar insights here:

Ed Barreras said...

I think I agree with this for the most part. I’m struck in particular by the claim that Kavanaugh wouldn’t have raped Dr. Ford even if he’d managed to pry her clothes off. He and his buddy saw it as just horseplay.

However, I don’t think I agree that Kavanaugh was under “constant pressure to repress his sexual [and also aggressive] urges.” No doubt there are many Christian cultures that rigoursly repress all expressions of sexuality and aggressiveness. But the 80s prep school milieu of Brett Kavanaugh’s adolescence was not one of them. My guess is that you’re right in speculating that Kavanaugh himself was unusually devout. He likely saw it as his duty to conform to the Church’s teaching on premarital sex, just like he saw it as his duty to get straight A’s.

But this was mostly a personal regime of self-discipline on Kavanaugh’s part. In truth, he had no trouble moving between the Church and the frat-boy party scene of his peers, which isn’t so much sexually open as violently misogynistic. In fact, as feminists always point out, the patriarchal religion and the masculinist secular culture support and sustain one another. If anyone needs evidence of how pervasive this toxic masculinity was back then (it’s gotten better), they need only watch the 1985 John Hughes film “Sixteen Candles,” which is regarded as a “classic” of teen cinema but which is, in addition to being horribly racist, a shocking glorification of date rape.

I’m practically blind with rage over this whole disgusting affair. That pig Kavanaugh may make it to the Supreme Court, but I’m glad to hear him say his life has been forever destroyed. I’m glad his family’s life has been destroyed. All of that is richly deserved. I hope he’s never able to enter a restaurant or store without being loudly called out as rapist, which is what he is. He deserves no peace. Ever.

Ed Barreras said...

S. Wallerstein,

Kavanaugh is clearly lying about a whole bunch of stuff. But regarding the core allegation, it’s pretty clear that Dr. Ford is being truthful. She has therapist notes mentioning the incident going back several years. She also told her huband and friends. Plus, why would someone like her — a successful academic with a family — choose to upturn her life in this way if she weren’t telling the truth? Clearly Kavanaugh did something horrible to her, and as he has offered no other reason for a possible vendetta (he claims not to remember her), we can only assume that what he did was brief and horrible, exactly what she describes. Plus, she came off as eminently credible in her testimony.

Dean said...

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Isn't it about time we apologized to Andrea Dworkin?

Derek said...

A note about who should be assumed to be lying. From the limited research on the topic, the percentage of people suspected to be lying about sexual assault in general is, at most, about 5%. ( It's happens almost never.

Why not? The reason is very simple, strikingly obvious when you realize it, and exemplified in horrific clarity by what happened to Dr. Ford. She has explicitly stated that she did not want to come forward because she knew her life would be ruined once her name became public. Her suspicion is basically universally shared by women who experience sexual assault. And it is justified, as, once again, was exhibited within 24 hours of Dr. Ford's name being released.

The grand majority (at least 2/3, likely far more, following the Snopes link) of sexual assault cases are not reported. Here we see why. The inclination to suspect that women are ever likely to be lying about this sort of thing is an artifact of a world and worldview that doesn't square with the facts. And what I have found in recent discussions is that this is almost as often true of those who consider themselves on the left, even the far far left.

A separate note: Ed, you may want to consider Weber's Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism in the context of Kavanaugh's repression. The moralism of American elite 'by-the-bootstraps' self-image, plus a dash of Freud, get you a story very much like Dr. Wolff's while incorporating your points.

Lastly, I just find the mental image of Kavanaugh screaming at the committee "I AM A GOOD BOY" to be amazing.

s. wallerstein said...

As a general rule, as a matter of self-discipline, when I am emotionally involved in a partisan political issue, as most of us are in preventing Kavanaugh from reaching the Supreme Court, I am especially skeptical of what my own side says, just because all of us, me too, have a human tendency to believe that our own side is telling the truth, whether or not that is the case.

Once again, I reiterate that I hope that Kavanaugh, a rightwing pig, does not reach the Supreme Court.

Anonymous said...

This may prove to be a Pyrrhic victory for the Republicans. It may further antagonize and energize opposition to them, which may manifest itself importantly in about six weeks. I think that the Democrats and anybody else who’s not a right-winger should not let this confirmation fight be forgotten or otherwise marginalized. Keep it current, right into 2020. Keep attention on this courtesano.

MS said...

Your analysis does make sense, from a psychological perspective.

But it raises an interesting point regarding Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. You conclude that both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh were telling the truth, which means he is mistaken about what occurred, even though he believes what he testified to is true, i.e., because of his drinking, he has a memory lapse and does not remember what happened. Dr. Ford is apolitical on this issue – she came forward not because she disagrees with Judge Kavanaugh’s conservative jurisprudential ideology, but because she believes that his attempted rape, and that alone, is sufficient to disqualify him from being on the Supreme Court. There is no question Judge Kavanaugh is eminently qualified to serve as a Justice on the Supreme Court. Before the Bork hearings, such academic and professional qualifications were sufficient to warrant elevation to the Court. So, putting aside questions of ideological persuasion, if his attempted rape of Dr, Ford were the only blemish on his otherwise sterling record, should that be sufficient, as Dr. Ford is contending, to deny him a seat on the Supreme Court? To put it another way, suppose the candidate were Merrick Garland, an academically equally qualified jurist, and evidence were produced implicating Judge Garland in an attempted rape while in a drunken stupor, would we be willing to overlook that single blemish because his liberal judicial philosophy was more palatable to us on the left? I believe this is what so incensed Sen. Lindsay and caused his outburst – he voted to confirm Justices Kagan and Sontomayor, even though he adamantly disagreed with their liberal judicial philosophy. (During the hearing, I was wondering whether some of the icons of the Supreme Court, e.g., Oliver Wendell Holmes, Louis Brandeis, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, had any personal skeletons in their closets that today would be deemed sufficient to prevent their appointment to the S. Ct. I certainly hope not.)

I have a different take on the hearing. I believe Kavanaugh was, in fact, lying. I believe he does remember the incident and has, as a good Catholic, been seeking to atone for it by making a deliberate effort to befriend females, promote their careers as law clerks, coach them in basketball, etc. From his perspective, he has atoned sufficiently, that, combined with his hard work in academia and as a jurist, it is unfair and cruel to deny him the fulfillment of his life’s aspiration. I believe he lied about that because I believe he lied about numerous other matters during the hearing. For example, he claimed four individuals had submitted statements under penalty of felony that refuted Dr. Ford’s accusation. As a lawyer and judge, he knows that this statement is false. The statements that were submitted were letters, they were not affidavits sworn under oath. Mark Judge’s statement was not even his own – it was a letter written by his attorney. Moreover, the statements did not refute Dr. Ford’s allegation, they merely stated that the individuals had no recollection of any incident comparable to what Dr. Ford alleges. Judge Kavanaugh surely knows that a lack of recollection does not equate to refutation.

He claimed there was no corroborative evidence supporting Dr. Ford’s accusation. As a judge, he surely knows that the requirement an individual claiming rape produce corroborative evidence no longer applies in most jurisdictions. An alleged victim’s testimony alone, if persuasive, is deemed sufficient to justify a prosecution and conviction. Corroborative evidence is desired, but is not necessary.

These prevarications, along with what I regard as his prior perjury re what he meant with respect to his email referring to Roe v. Wade as unsettled law, in addition to his attempted rape of Dr. Ford, persuade me that Judge Kavanaugh is a disingenuous, conservative ideologue who does not deserve to be on the Supreme Court. I am convinced of one other thing – if confirmed, he is going to seek revenge against the Democrats with every fiber of his being.

Anonymous said...

s. wallerstein wrote in the first comment above: Your comment that if you do not believe that Christine Blasey Ford is telling the truth and Kavanaugh is lying about the actual incident, you should go to another blog puzzles me.

I do not think that this is what RPW wrote:

First of all, I believe Christine Blasey Ford’s account. I am certain that she suffered the experience she described, and I am certain that she is not mistaken about the identity of the two persons in the room. If you reject these judgments, then you will probably prefer to navigate to some other blog.

He wants to focus on Kavanaugh's background, suffering and experience to understand his behavior before the committee. RPW can certainly speak for himself, but I think that his most preferred audience would include those who disagree but might be persuaded by the argument he follows in this post. Presumably this would include none who are convinced that Ford is lying, but many who think both sound (equally) credible. Thus he would want those who do not think Kavanaugh is lying to stick around and hear him (RPW) out.

MS said...


No, I do not believe we owe Andrea Dworkin an apology,

I do not dispute her claim that pornography was, for some, connected to physical abuse of women. But she, and Catherine MacKinnon, advocated for the passage of legislation outlawing pornography, making its publication and dissemination a criminal offense, and allowing victims of sexual assault to file civil suits against pornographers. Such legislation would, I believe correctly, be ruled unconstitutional under the First Amendment’s protection of free speech. Moreover, in a civil suit, how would you prove that a sexual assault was factually caused by an individual’s obsession with pornography? Moreover, f you ban pornography – assuming you could sufficiently define it in legislation to distinguish between “soft” porn and “hard” porn – what about novels that graphically portray sexual assaults – “Deliverance,” “Justine,” “The Story of O”?

Rather, I believe it is Anita Hill who deserves an apology. But it will not be forthcoming from the Republicans.

As usual, the Bard has something insightful to say about current events:

Through tatter’d clothes small vices do appear;
Robes and furr’d gowns hides all. Plate sins with gold,
And the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks;
Arm it in rags, a pigmy’s straw does pierce it.

King Lear, Act IV, Scene VII

Anonymous said...

Even if the K boy is telling the truth, do we really want a drama queen on the bench? Yikes.

MS said...

It is being reported that Senator Graham may have saved Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination with his emotional outburst. Below is the text of an email that I sent to Senator Graham a few hours after the hearing, with a copy emailed to each of the members on the Senate Judiciary Committee (with the exception of Sen. Blumenthal, since his website does not accept emails from non-constituents). Some may think that I crossed a line and was undiplomatic, but I figures, why treat those with respect who derailed Merrick Garland’s nomination and are now using every means possible to push through the confirmation of a disingenuous, egotistical, right-wing ideologue.

Senator Graham,

I am an attorney in Michigan. Since I am not one of your constituents, I do not expect you to reply to this email.

I watched all of the hearing with respect to Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh on September 27. I am writing to you, sir, to state that you are a jackass. Your tantrum during the hearing was an inexcusable disgrace.

The Republicans on the Judiciary Committee had retained Rachell Mitchell, a seasoned prosecutor in the area of rape and sex crimes, to question both Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. She conducted and completed the entire examination of Dr. Ford and did what I thought was a respectable, professional job. Dr. Ford came across as an honest, sincere and persuasive witness.

Ms. Mitchell then proceeded to question Judge Kavanaugh, as we were told by Senator Grassley she was expected to do. Then you, in a fit of childish, moralizing, sanctimonious screaming usurped the function that Ms. Mitchell was supposed to perform and shouted accusations at the Democrats of having smeared and slandered Judge Kavanaugh’s good name by concealing Dr. Ford’s allegation, and then unleashing it when it became opportune to do so. Ms. Mitchell was prevented from continuing in the role for which she was retained – to get at the truth with regard to the very serious allegation that she has made about Judge Kavanaugh, an allegation of attempted rape when she was 15 and he was 17, a charge which, if true, should disqualify him from sitting as a Justice on the United States Supreme Court.

Was Ms. Mitchell’s questioning getting too close to undermining Judge Kavanaugh’s denial that he was the individual who attempted to rape her, so you decided to derail Ms. Mitchell’s examination by launching your ridiculous tirade?

It is not the Democrats on the Judiciary Committee who have brought shame on the United States Senate. It is you and your Republican cronies who are willing to elevate a man to the Supreme Court who is alleged to have attempted to rape a young woman – all in your headlong pursuit to solidify a conservative majority on the Supreme Court. You have done a gross disservice to the country you claim to love so dearly. You, sir, and your Republican colleagues, are hypocrites – maybe “God fearing” hypocrites, but hypocrites nonetheless.



cc (via email): Senators Grassley, Hatch, Cornyn, Lee, Cruz, Flake, Sasse, Crapo, Tillis, Kennedy, Feinstein, Leahy, Durbin, Klobuchar, Coons, Hirono, Booker, Harris, Whitehouse

Howard Berman said...

Does anyone think that Kavanagh qualifies for the dark triad? Narcissism, psychopathy, Machiavellianism?
He's Trump's boy, Trump the Bermuda Triangle of the dark triad, but a Supreme Court Justice being a psychopath?
I mean the Republicans are all about raw power and that is what rape is essentially about and he'll be their point man on the court.
Is there a history of psychopaths or maybe authoritarians on the court? He clearly is a law and order authoritarian in the ugliest way and he clearly sees himself as Mr. Victim out of a sense of grandiose and smallminded entitlement

MS said...

Howard Berman,

Psychopaths? I am not sure. But authoritarians, yes, absolutely.

I am confident that a number of justices on the Supreme Court during the ante-bellum years would be regarded as authoritarian. During those years, a majority of the justices came from the South and I suspect many owned slaves. For a more definitive answer on this, we would have to ask an historian like Michael Beschloss.

In the 20th century, one justice comes immediately to mind – Justice James Clark McReynolds, who served as an Associate Justice on the Court from 1914 to 1941. He was extremely conservative and always ruled in favor of business and corporate interests. He was one of the Four Horsemen (w/ Justices Sutherland, Willis, Van DeVanter and Butler), who routinely ruled against President Roosevelt’s New Deal legislation and were the reason why Roosevelt proposed packing the Court. About Justice McReynolds’ temperament, The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court states the following: “As a person, McReynolds was often rude, impatient and sarcastic. He detested tobacco and prohibited others from smoking in his presence. His attitudes toward women, especially female attorneys, were likewise intolerant. Perhaps one of his least endearing characteristics was his thoroughgoing anti-Semitism, which prevented him from being civil to his Jewish brethren Brandeis and Cardozo.”

More recently, many on the left would probably regard Justice Scalia as authoritarian. Although I did not agree with many of his opinions, I am not sure that he would properly be labeled as authoritarian. I say this in part because of Justice Ginsburg’s close friendship with Scalia (something that I find a bit inscrutable, notwithstanding their mutual love for opera). I do not believe that Justice Ginsburg would tolerate or be friends with someone who was authoritarian or intolerant.

marcel proust said...

Anonymous at 12:45PM, in response to S. wallerstein's initial comment, was me. Sorry.

Howard Berman said...


Do you think that people can do antisocial things: like rape or revoke health care for millions of people, which are psychopathic in impact undercover of peer pressure or political ideology, even though they are not clinically psychopaths? Nazis liked their pet dogs and went out for warm fun at bars with their comrades-
Why not say that a psychopath is what a psychopath does and that the establishment he belongs to, either the catholic school system or the Republican party are antisocial to the point of malevolency and we become numb or dumb to it because we accept the authority and legitimacy of mainstream institutions- many people went to war who weren't psychopaths- perhaps the better word is evil- he is a bad, evil man

Dean said...

All legitimate points, @MS, but I think you missed mine. I wasn't suggesting that the (in my opinion, important) work she and MacKinnon performed at the time and thereafter was legally airtight. I was suggesting that Dworkin, in particular, was maligned for years for daring to challenge patriarchy, directly and indelicately. She called out the ill effects of pornography. Not being able to prove them legally is a separate issue, but she worked on multiple fronts: legal, rhetorical, political... She was widely and unfairly despised by men and women alike. To my mind, it's because she was effective.

MS said...

Howard Berman,

I believe, generally, language should be used with precision. There are colloquial uses of the term “psychopath,” and then there is the more rigorous medical definition. I do not have a medical degree, so I cannot tell the difference between, for example, a sociopath and a psychopath, or a person with a personality disorder or one with a borderline personality disorder. I believe the term “psychopath,” being such a derogatory term, should be reserved for people who actually exhibit the clinical symptoms of the pathology. In a previous comment to a different posting, I included a link to an interview with Dr. Bandy Lee, a psychiatrist, in which she described Trump’s symptoms as more in keeping with that of a sociopath, rather than a psychopath. From a nonclinical standpoint, I would think that in order to warrant the label of being a psychopath, an individual has to display a willingness to personally engage in violence without empathy for its effects on the victim(s). I do not believe that applies to Trump, i.e., he is not personally violent, but he encourages violence in others. I suspect his sociopathy is attractive to, and finds support among, individuals who would qualify as psychopaths.

So, I would not regard people who are selfish, advance political causes that harm the poor and benefit the wealthy, as psychopaths simply by virtue of their promoting what they regard as their self-interest. Some of them may be, but I do not even believe the majority of them are. Some, like Trump, may suffer from a narcissistic personality disorder. I believe most of them are just selfish people – that is not a psychiatric diagnosis. It is a comment on their ethics, or lack thereof. Being unethical is not per se psychopathic. Saying that we should designate as psychopathic what psychopaths do is correct, but psychopaths do far worse things than just being selfish.

Regarding Germans during the Nazi regime - some of whom simply tolerated the regime, but did not join the party; some who joined the party out of pragmatism, but did not enthusiastically support the party; some who joined and enthusiastically supported it; some who joined and also engaged in genocide – of these five categories, I would not regard those in the 1st 4 as psychopaths. With regard to the last category, some of them were certainly psychopaths, but I do not believe all necessarily were, although they were all evil. Killing people simply because of their religion, race, or sexual orientation is surely evil. Among the SS guards at Auschwitz, I am sure there were many psychopaths who enjoyed inflicting pain on the internees; but I believe there were also some who just joined the SS for the pay, perhaps the prestige, and did not particularly bear any grudge towards Jews. They were weak conformists, not psychopaths. (Believe me, I am not an apologist for Nazis or those in the SS.)

With respect to your larger point regarding Judge Kavanaugh and his supporters, are those who support Judge Kavanaugh psychopaths, sociopaths, or evil? I would say, no, not necessarily any of those. As you can see from my above email to Sen. Graham, I do believe that they are hypocrites, but I do not believe that even means they are evil. They are hypocrites because they are willing to advance the career of a man who it appears has engaged in conduct which their religious/personal beliefs deem as wrong and sinful, in order to advance what they regard as a more important objective, e.g., undoing Roe v. Wade, or preventing the advance of socialism, or ..... I do not agree, for example, with the position that abortion is wrong or sinful, but I understand that many of those who do oppose abortion believe that life begins at conception, and therefore abortion at any stage is murder. I do not believe this, but I cannot say that they do not have a “good” objective. However, even if their objective is “good,” as is mentioned in the Yom Kippur prayer that I previously posted, among the sins are “all the evil means we employ to accomplish good ends.”

MS said...


Before I respond to your last point, I would like to note that the kind of exchange that is occurring in this thread is akin to the metaphor I previously invoked of my understanding of the function of a blog to be like an internet cocktail party, where interesting, informed people offer their opinions in a generally respectful fashion, not bullying or being bullied to concede points, but sharing their opinions and cultivating civilized, even if occasionally sarcastic, communication. I suspect that many who read this blog, unless, perhaps, if they work in an academic setting, do not have access to a forum in which they can engage in such communication. In most workplaces, people do not engage in conversations that address the range of subjects that are raised in this blog. I believe that a forum in which such a collegial exchange of ideas can occur is a good thing, regardless how many times the same person(s) may contribute to the conversation. And I thank Prof. Wolff for providing and promoting such a forum.

I agree that Andrea Dworkin heightened our awareness of the potentially harmful effects of pornography by enhancing misogynistic attitudes towards women and its propensity to foster violence in some men towards women. However, I believe she did her own cause a disservice by recommending the passage of legislation that would have infringed on the free speech rights of individuals to read and look at pornographic material as they wished. In so doing, she alienated a lot of people, including men who sympathized with her views, but felt a strong commitment to the Constitution and the 1st Amendment’s protection of free speech. In that regard, the cure she propounded was worse than the disease. Even as disreputable a character as Larry Flynt performed a public service by defending the use of pornographic satire under the 1st Amendment against the attack of the religious right in Hustler Magazine v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46 (1988).

Dean said...


I can't reduce Dworkin's contribution to a mere cost-benefit analysis or a strategic lapse. Even men who feel "a strong commitment to the Constitution and the 1st Amendment's protection of free speech" are capable of recognizing the inherent tensions in FA jurisprudence, Citizen's United being an obvious recent example. Even these same men are capable of withholding support for the Dworkin-MacKinnon legislation while seeking its goals. They don't thereby become victims of a cudcharacter simply because he took salutary action in the Falwell case, then why do we demean Dworkin's because her legislative activism failed?

Dean said...

I don't know what happened to my comment above @10:00 PM. Instead of "They don't thereby become victims of a cud..." it should read:

Your Flynt example supports this. If we won't redeem Flynt's character simply because he took salutary action in the Falwell case, then why do we demean Dworkin's because her legislative activism failed?

Howard Berman said...

Dear MS

I have a copy of the book on Trump which Bandy Lee edited too.
Sociopathy is more environmentally caused and more impulsive.
Trump essentially like a juvenile delinquent who steals hubcaps, which he may have.
But I'd argue that the cynicism of a Kavanaugh and a McConnell is just as bad as Trump.
Why? Because their behavior has the same effect. The exact mechanism is irrelevant,
The example I'd use is from war- I served a year in the IDF- there were some Generals who like Sharon loved war and whom one may say had a psychopathic disregard for the life of the enemy. There were others who though they had some reservations like Barak, thought of the enemy as leaving them no choice but in some sense deserving it.
All are equally guilty Labor and Likud
What I'm saying is that there is a thin line between a world class sociopath like Trump and the cynics who enable him.
The pyschopathic behavior of the Republican establishment is more respectable and disguised but it is just as bad- if they can turn it off and cover it up doesn't make it any better.
I use the word evil, with the cynics who enable Trump, it is an act of will and therefore darker in a way- they willingly do harm- Trump has no fucking control over himself and is essentially an emotionally disturbed person- ask Socrates and his paradox of willful evil-
They engage in behavior that willingly if indirectly harms millions- they are power mongers- craving for power over anything else produces the same results as psychopathy and is evil.
That's what I'm saying

MS said...


I believe the discussion we are having is very interesting.

Actually, I don’t believe Larry Flynt did anything that required his being redeemed. While I would not want to spend a lot of time with him, and think if I did that we would not have much in common to converse about, I do believe that he performed a great public service – yes, a greater public service than that which Andrea Dworkin performed. Larry Flynt’s use of an obscene cartoon to mock and humiliate Jerry Falwell and his right wing religious hypocrisy, and his defense of his right to do so as protected by the 1st Amendment, achieved three major accomplishments. He protected the right of artists of numerous genre – writing, painting, theater – against claims of obscenity as a basis to circumscribe artistic expression. At the same time, he legitimized the role of satire, even profane satire, against conservative efforts to penalize it. Finally, he exposed the hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness of the religious right. With regard to his purveying of pornography, he argued that his pornographic pictures and stories were less harmful to the public than the glamorizing of military violence by the government and movie industry. I am glad that he protected the right of men, and women if they wish, to look at dirty pictures.

Regarding Andrea Dworkin, I don’t demean her because, as you put it, her legislative activism failed. I criticize her for even advocating such legislative prohibitions on the publication and sale of pornography in the first place. If she had her way, hardcore pornography showing adults in graphic sexual poses and interactions would be banned entirely, and if people like Larry Flynt tried to publish and sell it, they would be prosecuted and jailed. I deem that prospect a far greater threat to the public welfare and liberty than anything Larry Flynt did. Moreover, her legislative advocacy was based on a tenuous connection between pornography and sexual violence. See A lot of men buy and read pornography, but only a small percentage of those who do so engage in sexual violence, including domestic violence. There are other causal factors that contribute to their behavior than their exposure (pun intended) to pornography. To criminalize the publication and sale of pornography based on such a tenuous correlation - and remember, correlation does not entail causation – at the same time radically weakening the free speech protection of the 1st Amendment, I find entirely unjustifiable. And it is for her advocacy of such a regimen that I criticize Andrea Dworkin.

Dean said...

I do believe I'm witnessing sophistry in action. Your arguments, MS, no longer strike me as stemming from good faith.

LFC said...

I haven't read a lot of the comment thread but I have a brief comment on Prof. Wolff's post.

I agree w/ certain aspects of the post but I think it's somewhat hazardous to engage in this sort of psychoanalysis-at-a-distance of someone one 'knows' only as filtered through the media reports about his life or through his televised testimony. Hazardous, but not necessarily completely groundless.

Second, the repressions of which the post speaks were not unique to Kavanaugh, as the post admits. From a Freudian perspective (which is where RPW is clearly coming from) everyone born into Kavanaugh's circumstances and in his milieu would face comparable pressure to repress sexual and aggressive urges. (Though not everyone might do it to the same extent.)

Third, to be under the extreme psychological pressure described in the post and yet function at a high level as a student and athlete, which Kavanaugh evidently did, is quite a feat. One *might* have expected, to continue in the post's vein of somewhat off-the-cuff psychoanalysis, that at a certain point the psychological pressures would have affected Kavanaugh's academic performance, say, but they apparently did not. Which in itself is, perhaps, an interesting fact. Well, I'll stop here.

Jerry Fresia said...

Good blog. That makes sense to me.

I saw this insight today and thought it was important:

"I am completely baffled why, outside of Philip Bump’s excellent articles on this yesterday... (and Bump is not always someone I agree with or find persuasive), everyone isn’t camping out on the Calendar. How in the world could someone who thinks he’s qualified for the Supreme Court willingly give up the most damning corroborating evidence of all, somehow thinking it proves his innocence? It’s a bit gobsmacking, to be honest. The July 1 entry, in particular, that Bump has focused on, puts Kavanaugh with Judge, P.J. (whom Ford has named as at the party), Squi (whom Blasey Ford says now she was going out with around that time), and a few other boys. They were drinking (as Kavanaugh admitted “skis” meant with Cory Booker in the hearings). It fits, as Bump noted, the timeline of six to eight weeks before Blasey Ford could have run into Judge at a grocery store later that summer. Beyond the fact of all the rest of the corroborating evidence suggesting that Dr. Blasey Ford is telling the truth (where Kavanaugh’s honesty is questionable at best), how can any decision maker in their right mind want to put someone so terrible at evaluating evidence into a lifetime role on the nation’s most powerful court?"

MS said...


I agree that the use of the calendar was a red herring. Kavanaugh offered it because he believed, I believe correctly, that most in the public would find its use as convincing and exculpatory. (I got a kick out of Dr. Ford’s acknowledging she did not know what “exculpatory” meant and asked for a definition. That made her human. She has a Ph.d., yet was willing to admit that she did not know the meaning of a high fallutin’ 7 letter word.)

Kavanaugh was arguing the party in question likely occurred on a weekend and the calendar demonstrated he was not in the vicinity of the party on any of the weekend days in the summer of 1982. He claimed the kind of party that Dr. Ford was referring to would most likely have occurred on a weekend. July 2, 1982, was a Friday. So, he was contending, the fact that the entry in question shows him drinking with some buddies was irrelevant, since it was not the day in question. Moreover, the entry identifies the following boys as present in addition to himself: Timmy, Mark Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie and Ski. Dr. Ford did not indicate that many boys were at the party, nor, to my memory of her testimony, did she identify Tom and Bernie. Therefore, Kavanaugh was arguing, that was not the party that Dr. Ford was referring to.

Dr. Ford did not testify, however, that the party occurred on a weekend. She indicated she could not be sure on what day it occurred, whether it was a weekend or a weekday. That was one of the reasons she wanted an FBI investigation, to find out when Judge worked at the grocery store she went to a few weeks after the incident. Still, there are more boys present in the July 2 entry than Dr. Ford testified to. She did testify, however, that “at least” the number of people she identified were there. Rachel Mitchell, the prosecutor, was careful to question her about that, because she was aware of the July 2, 1982 entry in Kavanaugh’s diary and wanted to determine whether the entry could be disqualified as identifying the date of the party.

But the calendar was a red herring for different reasons. The calendar was hearsay, and would not be admissible at a trial unless it satisfied a number of technical criteria under two exceptions of the hearsay rule – the business record exception and the past recollection recorded exception. The criteria, which I won’t go into because they are numerous, are intended to substantiate the accuracy of the document. Ms. Mitchell, in fact, asked Kavanaugh a number of questions that would render the calendar admissible under the past recollection recorded exception. (I do not recall if she asked Kavanaugh all of the criteria that must be satisfied.) Here’s the thing. In my experience, calendars are more often offered by the party opposing the witness testifying, to be used in cross-examination (e.g., your calendar indicates that you were in Florida on the date in question, yet you testified you were in New York). They are infrequently offered by a witness/party to corroborate their own testimony, because they are easily manipulated, which can be demonstrated on cross-examination. For example, we have no guarantee that the entries in the calendar were entered at the time the events occurred, as Kavanaug claimed. They could have been prepared days, or weeks later, or even during days immediately prior to the hearing. More importantly, Kavanaugh was using the calendar to demonstrate the absence of any entry referring to a party of the sort that Dr. Ford described. But the absence of an entry proves nothing. If the event actually occurred as Dr. Ford described it, and Kavanaugh remembered it, he would unlikely enter a reference to the party in his calendar – even a teenager appreciates that it could cause him trouble in the future. Alternatively, he may have been too intoxicated to remember what happened (Dr. Ford testified that after he and Judge left the room, they went down the stairs bouncing off the wall) and therefore did not enter it in his calendar. For these reasons, the offering of the calendar was a total red herring.

Ed Barreras said...

I want to amend something I said in my earlier intemperate outburst. I said I was glad that this ordeal has destroyed Kavanaugh’s family. I’m actually not glad his kids have been hurt, since they are innocent. I believe Kavanaugh is guilty, and I am certain that he is lying about many things. My instinct tells me that any pain Kavanaugh is undergoing — including the pain of knowing he has inflicted suffering on his family — is absolutely warranted deserved, since he brought all this on himself. It is unfortunate, however, that his kids have to be caught up in all this.

My outburst came just as it seemed Kavanaugh’s and Graham’s, etc., theatrical hissy fits were going to win the day. The victim was going to be ignored, he was going to sail through to the S Court, and a man who sexually assaulted (at least) one woman was going to be the deciding vote to roll back women’s rights, and so much else. That appears to be slightly less certain today. So I guess my rage can be kept at bay for at least another week.

Dr. Renee said...

I think Kamala Harris nailed the point about the women friends Kavanaugh tries to use to obscure his participation in aggressive violence against women (and I agree with RPW...most young male sexual violence is done in herds...they "graduate" to individualized violence). That is, those women within his "circle" or "clique" were off limits. Dr. Ford was clearly not "in" so as an "out" woman she was a "legitimate" target. It is not exactly the old "madonna/whore" distinction, but is related.

Anonymous said...

It's humorous that there is no critical evaluation of Dr. Ford, a rich (much wealthier than Kavanaugh), White (much whiter/WASPier than Kavanaugh) girl who probably had her choice of male playthings when she was a teenager. Where's your discussion of rich, WASPy,female power and agency?

Jim Crimmins said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blinn Combs said...

Professor Wolf, I regularly enjoy your commentary, and I'm quite sympathetic with your plight to find a through-line to this complex situation that does at least some justice to the conflicting accounts. I wish I found this more convincing, and admittedly, my skepticism, like your sympathy, rest largely on facts suspected but not directly in evidence.

There's certainly a good deal of (male) approval-seeking, and no doubt at least the appearance of pressure, but I'd suggest a better theory is to be found in the class divisions of the scene than in the psychosocial dynamics. (See No doubt his life was occasioned by pressure, but it's at least plausible that privilege is the better descriptor. Perhaps he excelled on his own merits, but it's at least plausible that his success was in large part preordained by the structure of his class, money, and social position. Perhaps that also occasioned a large amount of stress, but everything about the picture of the man that his acquaintances and other records like his calendar paint a life of privilege, indiscipline, and vulgarity.

Maybe he's actually extremely bright and conventional, but that's hardly been in evidence, except for in his entirely self-serving, and entirely incredible, self-portrait. Your story is more pleasing, since it preserves at least some sympathy for the man, but it's at least as plausible that, as they say, he (or rather, his family) essentially paid his way to the top, and was afforded every privilege because he charmed (or bribed or coerced or what have you--fewer negatives are required when the narration of one's success has already been fore-ordained by the prestige of elite-status) the (usually, maybe always) males that held the keys to his success. Perhaps I'm being excessively cynical, but when I look at the man, I see a partisan hack, a simple con, and an utterly mediocre sexual predator.

Anonymous said...

Your analysis is sexist and fairly...old school. Are you an older white male?

Raymond Wacks said...

Over the years I have attempted to address moral questions encountered by judges in unjust societies (principally apartheid South Africa). Despite my robust criticism of the judiciary in that malign context, my arguments have always been premised on the (not unreasonable) assumption that judges are, in general, rational beings who have the capacity to exercise judgment! Absent that assumption, my own judgment would fall flat.

Witnessing Judge Kavanaugh's histrionics, I have no doubt that, his impressive CV notwithstanding, he is wholly unsuited to the Bench. I would argue that his current appointment ought to be reconsidered.