Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh, a Suit, and the Bro Culture, Part II

Starting with his nomination I was taken with Kavanaugh’s first pitch: That he was a great family man, a friend of women everywhere, a coach to his girls, practically a feminist, though he didn’t claim that, just let it be implied.

It reminded me of the political tactic that had been used successfully by Republicans against Democrats for decades. Attack the strength of your opponent. This was crystallized during John Kerry’s campaign for president, though used before. The Swift Boat attacks. Kerry was known as a Vietnam vet, a plus against the stay-at-home George W., as he went in and out of the National Guard, depending on his whims, it appeared.

It’s always been overlooked, except by me, that when W.’s father picked Dan Quayle for his veep, H.W. was playing a long game. He knew someone of that generation had to soften up the hard ground of the Vietnam war conflict and Quayle was his sacrificial Hoosier. He took the heat for his guarding the golf courses of Indiana during that war; that generational battle was fought during the campaign. Bush I was preparing the road for a future presidential run by his son. Little did Bush I know that he was actually helping future candidate Bill Clinton. Had Quayle not preceded him, Clinton would have had even a harder time dealing with his lack of service, his credited draft-dodging, his letter of thanks to the draft board.

In any case, what Brett was doing by trumpeting his women-friendly credentials was a variation on the Swift-Boat strategy. He and his handlers obviously knew that his history in high school and college might come up and this was their preemption of the issue. It almost worked.

Dr. Ford’s “letter”, its existence, must have entered the rumor mill, or Kavanaugh might have been forthcoming about possible youthful minefields. Why else parade his women bonafides so flagrantly?

It turned out the scorpion stung itself. And it all came crashing down when his first accuser and he himself testified. The only rational reason I could find for Kavanaugh carrying on the way he did is that he already assumed he would never get on the Court. The only thing that counters that is that he is already on a Court, a not unimportant one. Obviously Trump wanted his pick to fight back, but what transpired had flop sweat and desperation all over it. Anger, rage, because he had already lost. He wasn’t out to persuade.

One less (never?) quoted remark in his “unhinged” (the commonest description) testimony needs some attention. When he claimed he had already picked four clerks, all women, to serve him on the Supreme Court. I’d like to see their pictures. Who wouldn’t want to be surrounded by smart, lovely women? Kavanaugh favors harem professions, my term for men who are the boss of many women at once. Male dentists are the most obvious examples. One man and a cadre of women “assistants”.

[The above was written before Justice Kavanaugh was sworn in, before the 50-48 vote, but I will just leave it be and carry on.]

The Tiger Mom, Amy Chua, of Yale, is credited with saying that the new Justice likes a certain type of female clerk. I have yet to find a group picture, but, some day one will doubtless appear. But, I’m sure it’s a harem well worth spending time with.

Obviously, even in the Trump Era, I can still be surprised, since I thought Kavanaugh wouldn’t, in the end, make it onto the Court. But I was once again wrong. Susan Collins fulfilled all the predictions that she was a creature of the Republican leadership, not an independent thinker. Her confirming speech will doubtless be preserved as a lesson in self-delusion, but her squawking voice seems to be a curse that long ago has been visited upon her. Her transformation into an owl may, or may not, be final by 2020.

I tweeted during the final days that if Kavanaugh got on the Court it would be a new, indelible definition of White Male Privilege. As if we need more definitions.... Also, he and Clarence Thomas doubtless high-fived each other when they first met. At least, George H.W. Bush didn’t publicly apologize on behalf of the nation to Thomas.

What Justice Kavanaugh chiefly represents is just the most public signpost of what the Republicans are getting away with in Congress and legislation as Trump continues with his clown show, taking up so much space in the public’s (and media’s) consciousness. This was always the dread, that the Donald would distract and they would act. And now the dread has increased and, given that surprises still happen, I can’t imagine what the world will look like if the Democrats don’t win the House in less than 30 days.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Brett Kavanaugh, a Suit, and the Bro Culture, Part I

The SCOTUS nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, is a creature of Washington, DC, and the problems he is going through now are also a large part of his success. Kavanaugh is first and foremost a Suit, a guy who has credentialed himself as a GOP operative, and he shares a number of attributes with other past DC scandal figures. His roots go back further than Anita Hill; they reach into history, at least, to the Nixon administration, the Watergate episode, complete with eager young Washington GOP lawyers, especially the group that was adept at “ratfucking”.

Kavanaugh reminds me of Donald Segretti, memorialized in the film of Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President's Men. Kavanaugh is not as smarmy as portrayed by the actor in the film, his sad monologue full of self-pity – though about the same amount Kavanaugh showed in his Fox News interview. Indeed, Kavanaugh is a few steps above Segretti in the career advancement sweepstakes. He’s a federal judge, after all, another lifetime appointment.

Kavanaugh has an odd connection to Donald Trump. Being nominated to the Supreme Court might be the same sort of catastrophe for him as being elected President has been for Donald Trump. Everything was going along swimmingly until Trump reached the top. Trump and his circle was shocked and awed when he won. It’s been downhill for them since, though the Republicans in Congress have had a field day. The supposed runner-up for the Supreme Court, Amy Coney Barrett, should take note and be happy she has a good permanent job and decline any further offers.

Over the last few decades I have watched with some alarm while the bro culture has produced so many successful Republican male lawyers and financiers, Wall Street types riding Harleys: Heavy drinkers, most athletes of a sort, womanizers, hale, hearty and well met. Capitalists all, they seemed; with rare exception they favored the GOP. They did produce the ubiquitous use of the modern phrase “toxic masculinity,” which first entered common usage in the early 2000s. Previously, the rise of Microsoft, Apple, facebook, etc., seemed to cement the hegemony of single-minded men, though that tech crowd was softened somewhat by their West Coast geographies. The East Coast made the men meaner; Washington, DC, or as J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI used to refer to it, SOG – seat of government.

Given what we know now about Kavanaugh, it looks like Yale finally managed to civilize young Brett, or, at least, teach him that being drunk all the time didn’t lead to success. He seems to have changed his vices to excessive NBA basketball tickets, or, it is suspected, gambling. I, too, went to a Jesuit all-boys high school, one that shares the “men for others,” motto, though I did tweet recently that Brett should adjust the motto to Men Atop Others. I went to my high school in the early 1960s and, to say the least, the social mores were far different than those of the 80s. God knows what the Jesuits were thinking at Georgetown Prep, but supervision didn’t seem to be a priority. Though alcohol consumption has always been the most approved Catholic failing. And Jesuit high schools remain all boys to this day, the last bastion of single-sex exclusivity.

Given his background working for Bush II and Ken Starr, both tainted figures, Kavanaugh does seem to play fast and loose with the truth; he employs a sort of pragmatic lying, well sanctioned by politicians and their staffs in DC. When it came to his clerkship with his “mentor”, Judge Alex Kozinski, who resigned after decades of sexual harassment, Brett took the former wrestling coach Rep. Jim Jordan’s ignorance defense: seeing nothing, hearing nothing, saying nothing.

I am writing and posting this the day before the scheduled public hearing, which appears to be mismanaged by both sides. Christine Blasey Ford doesn’t appear to realize that a smaller room and one camera will truncate the spectacle and make it less Anita Hill-like than she might want. But, unfortunately, we will all see – or not. In our present culture everything can change in a day. Take this as Part I; Part II will follow.