On Thursday, Kavanaugh did not show any of the stately, sphinxlike judicial restraint typical of Supreme Court nominees in such hearings, or that he’d shown in his staid, evasive answers during public hearings before the Senate Judiciary in early September. This time around, he was an avatar of rage, scolding the very senators he will need to confirm him. “This confirmation process has become a national disgrace,” he said. “The Constitution gives the Senate an important role in the confirmation process, but you have replaced advice and consent with search and destroy. Since my nomination in July, there’s been a frenzy on the left to come up with something, anything, to block my confirmation.”
Kavanaugh then specifically attacked Democratic partisans, characterizing his hearing as part of a reaction to the presidency of Donald Trump, and associating it with “revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” He scowled, and yelled, and wept. He scolded senators for how they did their own job. His primary mode was defiance, summed up in one sentence: “You may defeat me in the final vote, but you’ll never get me to quit.”
In their own mind, everyone envisions their public moments of indignation to be righteous, soaring eruptions of well-planned and thorough vindication, worthy of the climax moment in a biopic. Reality often falls short, as did Kavanaugh’s. While his affected stentorian family-man rage did seem to elicit emotional responses from other stentorian family men in the room, his outbursts and sniping against Democratic lawmakers did not provide vindication, and indeed opened him up to new lines of attack.
Whereas wise counsel would’ve probably instructed Kavanaugh to bend a bit and contextualize a clear pattern of binge drinking and hard partying corroborated by his calendar, written evidence, and statements from both friends and accusers, he chose to play the oak tree, unyielding in his assertion that he drank legally—a claim that appears to be clearly false—and never blacked out, or drank so much that he couldn’t remember something from the night before. Any casual observance of prep-school or Yale drinking culture would provide reason to doubt that claim. He also said that what seem to be clear sexual innuendos written in his yearbook about a female classmate were not, and evaded questions probing what they meant.
Taken separately, these small seeming lies, untruths, and omissions unnecessarily damage the credibility of Kavanaugh’s account. Taken together, though, they are essential to Kavanaugh’s audition strategy. Instead of admitting to any of the fallibility of conduct or fuzziness of memory common to mere mortals, in Kavanaugh’s recollection he is an adamantine Boy Scout, an athletic polymath who drank “too much” but who was never truly affected by too much alcohol, who despite hanging with a group of knuckleheads never disrespected women, who can remember the exact details of his entire life with the aid of a meticulous calendar. In all, what Kavanaugh’s testimony requires is not just a repudiation of allegations against him as a partisan plot, but an acceptance of him as incorruptible and virtuous, against existing evidence and common sense.