Christine Blasey Ford has accused Brett Kavanaugh of trying to rape her during a party while they were teenagers. The political stakes are high: If Kavanaugh's confirmation vote fails in the Senate and Democrats win the body back in November, conservatives will watch their dream of a solidly reliable 5-4 majority go up in smoke.
What makes the research psychologist's charge culturally interesting — why people can't talk about much else this week — are its many layers of debatability.
Is it right to derail a man's career, or anyone's anything, over a charge that can't be verified? Is "innocent until proven guilty" still a thing?
Assuming Ford is truthful (and no new victims of Kavanaugh's alleged piggery step forward), is a single disgraceful act by a 17-year-old (Ford was 15) a deal breaker? Seventeen-year-olds are more aggressive and impulsive than adults. It's not their fault. It's their brains'. Out-of-control teens don't necessarily become crazy adults. That's why we have a separate justice system for children. On the other hand, most of the people I knew as kids haven't changed that much.
If Kavanaugh's school buddy hadn't busted up the scene, would he have raped Ford? Maybe, maybe not. But what she alleges, pinning her down and covering her mouth, would be unlawful restraint — a serious criminal offense.
I'm not sure what happened. If this were a jury instructed to convict beyond a reasonable doubt, I'd have to let Kavanaugh walk.
My gut tells me Ford is telling the truth. She told her own shrink in 2012. She passed a polygraph. Her account describes an encounter that, though terrifying, could have gone worse. If she wanted to destroy Kavanaugh's bid for the high court, she could claim that he'd raped her. Kavanaugh was a prep boy. He's still an obnoxious jerk. Ford's description sounds like vintage late-1970s/early-1980s arrogance.
Again, I don't know.
But here's the thing: We can't know. He said, she said is a cliche for a reason. This took place, or didn't, in an age before smartphones and security cameras. People had privacy, which they sometimes abused.
Republicans want the he and the she to testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Sept. 24 — Anita Hill 2.0! Ford's lawyer says that's too soon because her client wouldn't have enough time to prepare. For what it's worth, Ford's lawyer is right: Kavanaugh had months to prepare for his cakewalk; she deserves the same before getting grilled.
If and when America gets its spectacle — "Monday, Monday, Monday! Ford versus Kavanaugh! Visit the concession stand!" — we will know nothing more than we do today. She says it happened. He says it didn't. She can't prove it did. He can't prove it didn't.
What's really on trial here is #MeToo.
Some dude, a pompous, angry "white knight," tweeted the semi-official motto of #MeToo the other day: "BELIEVE ALL WOMEN! DISCUSSION OVER." Nice try, but fascism isn't the law yet. Discussion continues. Discussion will continue for the foreseeable future.
Because this discussion is inherently unresolvable.
It will not be resolved. But it will end.
#MeToo will end with a whimper. Give us a few more Aziz Ansaris and we'll be too exhausted to continue. But #MeToo will have accomplished a lot. Its "Believe All Women" battle cry will be dismissed as the ridiculous attempted overcorrection it obviously is. No one deserves to be believed, not at face value, not without evidence, just because they're a woman (or a man).
What people need and deserve, accuser and accused alike, is to be respected, taken seriously and listened to. Pre-#MeToo, too many female accusers were dismissed out of hand, even mocked, frequently disrespected and re-victimized. Too many male offenders were believed simply for belonging to the half of the population privileged under patriarchy.
Society needs to arrive at a place where people of underprivileged status are heard as much and as intelligently as those with wealth and power. Well, society really needs to eliminate differences in social and economic status. But until then, equal respect and dignity will have to suffice. #MeToo will help us get there.
In the meantime, we'll have Ford versus Kavanaugh.
Ted Rall, the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of "Francis: The People's Pope." He is on Twitter @tedrall. You can support Ted's hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.