Upholding norms is a two-way street
Many of the current president’s critics on the left insist that they are standing up for norms of democratic conduct and for democracy itself. Some are sincere. Neal Katyal, for example, who served as principal deputy solicitor general in the Obama administration, endorsed Neil Gorsuch for the Supreme Court. Liberal feminist lawyer Lisa Blatt penned an op-ed in Politico praising Brett Kavanaugh. Her standard, she wrote, was whether the nominee was “unquestionably well-qualified, brilliant, has integrity and is within the mainstream of legal thought. Kavanaugh easily meets these criteria.”
But the Democratic members of the Senate judiciary committee have this week undermined the norms of decency they claim to uphold. They have contributed to the sense that things are out of control.
The opening of the Kavanaugh hearing was a circus. One after another, Democratic senators, starting with Kamala Harris of California, interrupted and talked over the committee’s chairman as he was welcoming the nominee. “Mr. Chairman. Mr. Chairman. We cannot possibly move forward.” Sen. Richard Blumenthal moved to adjourn the hearing, and was echoed by Senators Hirono and Booker. At the same time, scads of protesters arose, at carefully timed intervals, to screech their incoherent bile at the entire process. They were escorted out. Chairman Grassley must have been tempted to ask the sergeant at arms to offer the same treatment to Harris et al. In fact, the Republicans must have been tempted to accept the Democrats’ challenge and cancel the hearing altogether. The Republicans have the votes, and can simply report out Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the floor. If they did, the Democrats would lose their soapbox. The final outcome — a foregone conclusion in any case — would not be affected.
The only Democrat to object to this descent into chaos was Sen. Dianne Feinstein. In a nod to the zoo-like tenor of the hearing, she told Kavanaugh, “I’m sorry for the circumstances but we’ll get through it.” For this, she was predictably skewered by progressives.
Next, New Jersey Senator Cory Booker flamboyantly violated Senate rules (the penalty for which can include expulsion from the body) by releasing some of Kavanaugh’s emails that were deemed “committee confidential.” Booker, whose first name might as well be “likely presidential candidate,” chose his subjects with all the subtlety of a jackhammer. One email contained Kavanaugh’s caution to George W. Bush’s transportation department that a particular program looked like a “naked racial set aside.” Booker implied that Kavanaugh’s use of the term implied racial insensitivity, but in fact, the Supreme Court had ruled set asides to be invalid, so it was completely sensible for the staff secretary, a lawyer and former Supreme Court clerk, to alert the agency that it was on shaky legal ground. The other email Booker waved about like a bloody shirt bore the subject line “racial profiling.” This email, dating from the early post-9/11 era, apparently contains Kavanaugh’s recommendation — drumroll please — that the government refrain from racial profiling!
If Booker has made a fool of himself, and flouted Senate procedures in the process, most of his Democratic colleagues bought in, too. As Booker himself crowed after several of his colleagues, including minority leader Chuck Schumer, weighed in on his behalf, “This is about the closest I’ll ever have in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment.” Someone also took the step of leaking many other emails to The New York Times.
Kamala Harris, in the most peculiar exchange with the nominee, darkly implied that Kavanaugh had some nefarious connection to someone who worked at a law firm founded by Trump’s lawyer Marc Kasowitz. Kavanaugh was perplexed, but clarified the following day that he had no connections of any kind to that firm. Harris’s sinister insinuations look both bullying and foolish.
If you’re truly concerned about norms, surely the rules of the Senate and ordinary civility and respect for one’s opposition should rank high. Yet Democrats were content to stoke absurd suspicions that Kavanaugh had snubbed the father of one the Parkland shooting victims, when any benefit of the doubt would have shown that it was simply a case of an unknown man approaching him and security intervening to usher him away. And in the fever swamps of the left, the accusation of a “white power” symbol blazed across Twitter for a few hours.
Some of us take our lumps holding our own side to account. The Democrats need to reflect seriously on the fact that norms are more than a cudgel to use against Republicans.