After several days of showboating and judicial hazing, Democrats pulled out their biggest weapon against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh -- a letter from an anonymous woman claiming sexual misconduct in high school.
There are no words -- except perhaps desperate, scurrilous and embarrassing to anyone with a conscience and a grown-up brain.
The letter apparently has been in the custody of Judiciary Committee member Sen. Dianne Feinstein since July, but it only recently surfaced. Feinstein says she didn't mention it sooner out of concern for the accuser's privacy and because the events were too far in the past to merit discussion, according to a source close to the California senator who spoke to the New Yorker. Under pressure from colleagues, however, she turned it over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Democrats surely were hoping the letter would prompt a federal inquiry and stall Kavanaugh's confirmation until after the midterm elections, when they hope to take over the Senate. But the bureau didn't take the bait. It added the letter to Kavanaugh's file but has not opened a criminal investigation. The allegations, which Kavanaugh vehemently denies, refer to when he was a student at Georgetown Preparatory School in North Bethesda, Maryland, in the 1980s. During a party, he allegedly held down and tried to force himself on a student from another school.
As awful as the allegation about Kavanaugh is (and one is justified in questioning its veracity under the circumstances), the use of an anonymous document to undermine him at a time when he's poised to become a Supreme Court justice is dreadful. Equally terrible was the recent unnamed op-ed from a White House insider underscoring President Trump's incompetence. No regular reader of this column would mistake me for a Trump supporter. But fairness and journalistic integrity took a hit with The New York Times' publication of the op-ed. In the newspaper world I inhabit, Anonymous doesn't get a byline.
Nor should Kavanaugh's accuser get a public hearing, especially under such clearly political circumstances. In today's #MeToo environment, a mere suggestion can be treated as an indictment -- and little imagination is required to make the leap to guilty. A letter of this sort by itself is of no value to the public other than to confirm that the U.S. Senate now traffics in gossip. And at a time when journalists are concerned with "alternative facts" and Trump's war on truth, how much faith can we put in the facts and truth of an anonymous letter or op-ed?
In the meantime, 65 women who have known Kavanaugh since his high school years signed a letter addressed to both Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Feinstein affirming Kavanaugh's good character.
"In particular, he has always treated women with decency and respect," the letter said. "That was true when he was in high school, and it has remained true to this day."
So here we are debating an adolescent boy's qualifications to become a Supreme Court justice. What's next, his potty training?
Even Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is displeased with the way Kavanaugh has been treated by the Senate. Speaking last Wednesday at the George Washington University Law School, a day before Feinstein disclosed the letter, Ginsburg called the Kavanaugh hearings "a highly partisan show." She recalled both her own and Justice Antonin Scalia's "truly bipartisan" hearings in better days.
After she was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Bill Clinton, Ginsburg was confirmed in two months by a vote of 96-to-3. Scalia, whom she described as "certainly a known character," was confirmed unanimously. "Every Democrat and every Republican voted for him," she said.
"That's the way it should be. ... The Republicans move in lockstep, and so do the Democrats. I wish I could wave a magic wand and have it go back to the way it was," said the 85-year-old jurist.
Brava, Madam Justice, brava.
Clearly, both political parties are responsible for the highly partisan show now taking place, but Democrats currently lead what appears to be a race to outdo the other in bad form. A lower point is hard to imagine.
Bipartisanship (and fairness) may be forever beyond our reach, but we should at least be aware of our participation in this dismal prospect. There is a way back to the better times of which Ginsburg spoke, though it will require great courage and character -- to confirm the highly qualified Kavanaugh with a bipartisan vote.
Alas, there's no such thing as a magic wand.