It could have been the thudding automated banality of Frank Bruni’s column about why Michael Bloomberg should run for president as a Democrat in 2020—or, no, that’s too strong a position for a Frank Bruni column, it was about why the Democrats owe the possibility of Michael Bloomberg running for president “an open-minded assessment.”
Not, to be sure, an assessment so open-minded as to include Bloomberg’s lengthy record of gross sexism; Bruni “was floored that he digressed in an interview…to wonder about the accusations against Charlie Rose.” Dealing with Bloomberg’s piggishness would have spoiled the monotonous two-stroke rhythm of Bruni’s column-length Goofus and Gallant routine:
Trump operates by gut. Bloomberg demands data and more data. Trump doesn’t really have his hand on the wheel — he just wants to be the shiny hood ornament. Bloomberg is all pinpoint GPS navigation.
But Frank Bruni can never win anything, not even a negative distinction. His column, the dull annoying morning reading of it, feels as if it happened 40 years ago, because later in the day Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow brought out another story in the New Yorker about another person claiming Brett Kavanaugh committed a sex offense. Here, once more, the story was a good story and the horribleness was the substance of it, scrupulously rendered.
There was plenty of back-and-forth afterward, as people echoed the back-and-forth testimonials in the story itself as to whether Kavanaugh, drunk in his first year at Yale, had pulled out his penis and waved it in a classmate’s face.
Maybe the most appalling line in the piece, though, was not disputed by any counter-source within the story. It was not about drunk young Yale in the 1980s, but about sober adult Washington, D.C., last week:
Senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week and, in conversations with The New Yorker, expressed concern about its potential impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote.
Accelerate the timing! For a generation, among liberals and feminists and Democrats talking to one another, it was possible to believe there was a consensus about what had happened to Anita Hill in the 1991 Clarence Thomas hearings: It was a disgrace, and no one would ever allow it to happen that way again. Now, in practice, we are getting the right-wing version of that consensus. The Republicans are, in fact, not going to allow an Anita Hill situation to happen again, because they are determined to be even more ugly, hasty, and sloppy about it this time around.
We have left behind not just the world of the Clarence Thomas nomination, but even the world of the Harriet Miers nomination. When George W. Bush picked Miers, seemingly at random, installing a conservative Supreme Court justice was a mere policy goal, so that if a pick turned out to be embarrassing, the nominee could be pulled back and replaced by someone better suited to claim the seat. Samuel Alito was as good as, or better than Miers, for the purposes then.
But the purpose of putting Brett Kavanaugh on the court has been reduced to the goal of putting Brett Kavanaugh on the court. As Alex Pareene put it, the Republicans are now motivated strictly by “dominance/humiliation psychopolitics.” Their exercise of power now consists entirely of the performance of power, regardless of procedure or sex-crime complaints. If Kavanaugh can be questioned, then everything can be questioned.