“The only consensus,” declared The Washington Post about Thursday’s Judiciary Committee hearings, “was that the Senate—and the nation—had hit a new low.” In The Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last added, “It’s impossible to look at the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings and not see America as a nation in decline.” A lot of respectable people believe that. It’s the kind of sentiment you hear from nonpartisan journalists and anti-Trump conservatives, the people who represent the supposedly thoughtful center in today’s Washington.
But it’s nonsense. Claiming that Thursday’s hearings reflect “a new low” and “a nation in decline” implies that, in some previous era of American history, the Senate Judiciary Committee would have treated Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford more fairly than they did this week. In fact, for the vast majority of American history, Blasey Ford would have received no hearing at all. The Senate Judiciary Committee would not have bothered to inquire into her allegations of sexual assault because it would not have pretended that sexual assault was disqualifying for a seat on the Supreme Court.
By 1991, things had progressed enough that the Judiciary Committee was willing to publicly interview Anita Hill. But at that hearing, conducted by a Judiciary Committee that included no women, Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania told Hill, “You testified this morning that the most embarrassing question involved—this is not too bad—women’s large breasts. That is a word we use all the time.”