Skeletons in the Closet
Is Anyone Perfect Enough for Public Office?
By Barton Cockey
October 7, 2018
“Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud. There is always something.”
Thus speaks the character Willie Stark in Robert Penn Warren’s 1946 novel All the King’s Men.I read the book fifty years ago, but those words have stayed in my head. In the novel, Willie Stark is a corrupt and powerful political boss in the Huey Long mode, who employs a young man named Jack Burden to dig up dirt on a political opponent, the elderly and highly respected Judge Irwin. When Jack objects that the judge is an upright man, Boss Stark delivers the philosophical pearl quoted above. Jack is a superb researcher and discovers that Judge Irwin took a bribe once, many years earlier, with dire results for the wronged party in the lawsuit. Upon the exposure of his malfeasance, the judge kills himself. Then, to round out the drama, Jack learns that Judge Irwin was his father.
It’s an American classic and a dark and somewhat nihilistic read. One take-home message is that our actions have unforeseeable and often terrible consequences (a narrower version of the butterfly effect). Another is that human imperfection guarantees that no one is secure against the politics of personal destruction. This latter point has been amply illustrated by the “me-too” movement and the effort to discredit Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.
That Judge Kavanaugh weathered the storm of protest and vituperation is mildly reassuring for the health of our republic. As noted in my previous post, I expected an attack of this kind and was therefore disposed to be very skeptical of any such charges made against him. Going forward, I suspect that the accusations will continue to unravel upon further examination. Certainly, the memorandum from Investigative Counsel Rachel Mitchell to the Senate Republicans exposes the flimsy and contradictory character of Professor Ford’s account. Her report is worth reading. To me, the most striking feature of the smear campaign against Kavanaugh was that the opposition had to go all the way back to his high school days to find anything even remotely embarrassing. As Penn Law Professor Amy Wax courageously pointed out in a recent interview, even if the Ford story is true (and Dr. Wax maintains a proper agnosticism about the veracity of the charge), by any reasonable legal standard, it’s too late to bring it up. Imagine how implausible it would be if the fictional Judge Irwin had committed suicide over such nonsense. Who’s writing the Democrats’ material, anyway?
What, then, explains all the hysterical media attention, all the weeping demonstrators and frantic internet postings? The feeding frenzy came on because there was already blood in the water from all the prominent media personalities (ironically, most of them liberals) keelhauled and forced to walk the plank because of “sexual misconduct.” The absence of due process in these firings has been rather striking. Beloved radio personality Garrison Keillor disappeared from the airwaves as abruptly as if he had been vaporized by a Martian death ray. Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) issued a chilly statement about its commitment to “maintaining a safe, respectful and supportive work environment,” alluded vaguely to unspecified “allegations,” and made it clear that after lawyering up, the MPR board decided to terminate his contract. In a Stalinesque touch, Mr. Keillor’s entire body of work also disappeared from the MPR archive. Quasi-conservative commentator Rod Dreher remarked, “Oddly enough, what’s happened to Keillor makes me more opposed to removing Confederate statues—not because of any sympathy for the Confederacy (I have none), but because of fear of erasing history.” As of this writing, Mr. Keillor still has had no opportunity to face his accuser or to present a proper defense. He has said that he will tell his side of the story in due course.
Senator Al Franken resigned from the senate in 2017, shortly after radio and TV personality Leeann Tweeden accused him of non-consensual kissing and groping in 2006 when they were both on a USO tour in the Middle East. Twenty-three Democrat senators and Republican senator Susan Collins of Maine called for Franken’s resignation. Senator Collins called the allegations against her fellow senator “credible, disgusting and appalling.” Left-wing commentators have explicitly compared Franken to Kavanaugh, piously deploring the former’s transgressions but declaring them a mere trifle, a bagatelle, next to the latter’s. The key word is “credible.” There is an actual photograph of the Frankenfondle and no such corroborative detail on Kavanaugh. Which alleged assault is more “disgusting and appalling” ultimately comes down to a matter of taste and whether one normally expects more loutish behavior from vulgar show-biz comics or from drunken, horny teenagers. Or senators for that matter. From what I’ve heard, there isn’t much to choose.
So, where are we left after this latest skirmish in the Cold Civil War? Indignant Social Justice Warriors have ratcheted their indignation up a notch and are on the highest dopamine high of their lives. Conservatives are cautiously optimistic that the Supreme Court may return to adjudication instead of making up new laws. Abortion advocacy groups are gleefully ramping up their fund-raising efforts by claiming that Judge Kavanaugh will reverse Roe v. Wade. (I don’t think he will, but who knows? Returning the issue to state legislatures, where it belongs, would make state elections that much more contentious.) Moderates are split as always, but I’d guess that a majority are disgusted by the dirty tricks played against Kavanaugh.
At the level of ideas, the cult of victimhood has pushed a little too far. Plenty of men, and the women who love them, have gotten a good look at the price of “believing the victim.” On the half-remembered mumblings of a psychiatric patient, an honorable man may be cast into the pit of chaos and torment forever. Or a whole range of imperfect men may be thrown down for more plausible reasons. With the politically motivated attack on Kavanaugh, we may have just witnessed the apogee of the Assault Victim, by which I mean not a victim of assault but an untouchable and pure human shield for those who are waging an assault and quashing debate. No one, least of all a cringing Republican legislator like Jeff Flake, would dare to question or contradict an Assault Victim. Gone from the spotlight lately is Assault Victim David Hogg, a boy who attended the school in Parkland, Florida where a juvenile delinquent shot 17 students dead. The news media and anti-gun organizations groomed Hogg as a spokesman and surrounded him with publicity agents, ignoring other students with opposing views. He was such a sacred cow that Fox News Host Laura Ingraham temporarily lost some of her sponsors after she “mocked” him. Stalking horse, sacred cow and tar baby rolled up in one: Assault Victim. Maybe enough people have caught onto this racket, and his/her/its day is finally passing. One can only hope.