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Brett Kavanaugh Has Democrats Running Scared

The newly embattled Supreme Court justice has nothing to fear from a party that's terrified of wielding power.

Zach Gibson/Getty Images

For many women—those who have experienced assault, who generally believe that it happens, or who were not already politically predisposed to not believe this instance occurred—the debacle of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination was not just outrageous and depressing, like the rest of politics in 2018, but actually painful. It hurt to watch Christine Blasey Ford recount a traumatic incident to a panel of repugnant old men, then be questioned and disbelieved publicly and cast aside to be alone with her death threats. It was emotionally and physically draining to watch a woman go through what so many women go through, but at the hands of the United States Congress; at America’s hands. Where would all that rage go? (It went nowhere; pushed down inside again, shoved back into the painful wound it had left behind, to press uncomfortably on our hearts forever.)

From out of that wound springs another: The spectacle of watching the national Democratic leadership demonstrate, over and over again, that they do not understand (or pretend not to understand) where this kind of anger comes from, or how to use political anger to their advantage. Republicans have been very successful in marshaling the rage of their base. During President Barack Obama’s tenure, it was almost too easy. Everything, from the First Lady suggesting children should eat vegetables to the president disrespectfully raising his latte at the troops, could be spun into white resentment of the stubbornly black president.

Not so for the Democrats. Throughout the Trump presidency—which has engendered (much more righteous) fury among the Democratic base—that anger has been squandered. The Kavanaugh confirmation fight was emblematic of this pathology. Republicans raised a hue and cry about the outrageous treatment of this Good Man whenever Democrats even timidly suggested that maybe it was in the public interest to determine whether or not the Supreme Court nominee sexually assaulted a woman. They had to be pushed to press this case. Ryan Grim reported in his book We’ve Got People earlier this year that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer “repeatedly told outside allies that a furious stand against Kavanaugh would enrage Trump supporters and only disappoint progressive voters. We have no power, he explained repeatedly.”

It’s unsurprising, then, to see how senior Democrats are responding to the latest allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. Politico reported on Monday that senior Democrats were “moving quickly to snuff out calls to impeach Brett Kavanaugh,” because such calls were not “realistic.” “Get real,” said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin. Having an old man tell women and activists who do not believe a man who might have had a proclivity for waving his dick in women’s faces should be on the Supreme Court, “get over it”: That’s just what we call good politics.

Not only is impeachment not “realistic” to Durbin; he also felt it’s important to note that impeachment is not “the answer to every problem.” Well, sure, the reasoning is, at least, unimpeachable. Impeachment would definitely not change the fact that a sizable minority of this broken country really did get mad at Obama for the latte salute, or fix big policy problems like our broken campaign finance system, or make The Simpsons good again. Nevertheless, it would address a couple of specific problems, such as that both Trump and Kavanaugh are deeply unsuited to office.

Durbin went on to say that if Americans see Democrats pursuing impeachment against these unpopular figures, “people will feel we’re ignoring the issues that mean a lot to them as families.” But Democrats are already ignoring those issues. It is nine months since the Democrats took control of the House and nearly three full years into Trump’s first term, and the Democrats still do not have a flagship, leadership-endorsed bill on drug prices. They could have one tomorrow, if Pelosi decided to endorse Bernie Sanders’s or Lloyd Doggett’s drug pricing proposals. Instead, she spent months trying to come up with her own. Her initial proposal having been deemed ineffective, it’s now reportedly morphed into something much more aggressive, and therefore has just as much chance of passing as the proposals she already had at hand. A fine way to waste nine months before an election year begins.

Senior Democrats believe power is something that only comes from having a majority in the Senate. “We have no power,” said a man whose party represents majority opinion on most issues. Yes, Republicans have gamed and broken the machinery of democracy to enact a nightmarish form of minority rule, but there’s hardly any need to spin up that dreadful engine while Democrats steadfastly refuse to use the tools the Constitution has given them. Democrats in Congress have no idea what they’re doing when it comes to impeaching the most obviously impeachable president in decades; it’s no surprise that they’d find the idea of using the same process against Kavanaugh ridiculous.

These Democrats will never find their way to success if they do not understand why telling America to “get real” about the chances of holding our second-most prominent alleged sex criminal to account is a losing proposition, or how the certain failure of an impeachment conviction in the Senate does not preclude using those proceedings to lay out the corrupt heart of Trump’s entire agenda—thus providing ample grist for Democratic hopefuls to press the case on the campaign trail. This aversion to governing, to actually using the power granted to them by the voters, only forces those voters to wonder whether these Democrats really want to win.