Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona went out with a moral whimper and a colossal bang against the dignity of women when he announced in a simpering statement Friday that he was voting to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. This is the same Brett Kavanaugh who practically blamed the multiple accusations of sexual assault against him on the Clintons, a spurious charge that he couldn't possibly, you know, prove because Hillary burned her 2018 calendar with the entry "Frame Brett Kavanaugh." She learned something from that whole Vince Foster mess.

People expect more than they should from Flake, who likes to say soothing words while suffocating you with a pillow stuffed with ACA repeal and tax cuts for the rich. Flake patted himself on the back for agreeing to "listen" to Christine Blasey Ford. This is classic male behavior. We'll "listen" but we'll "plow on through" with what we want. I even recall a very Flake-like former boss who was brilliant at this and explained how "empathetic listening (TM)" was effective for achieving "buy in" from the ladies. I get the sense that sexual assault survivors demand more than smiling men pretending to "listen" to them.

Dr. Blasey delivered a compelling, moving testimony. She relived a horrible event that permanently traumatized her. She left her grandmother's funeral to take a polygraph. No one does this just for a trip to DC even if someone got her into the African-American museum. Unless you're a sadist, why put her through all this if the only thing that would alter your expected vote was video footage of Kavanaugh assaulting her? The cynical answer is that Republicans hoped Dr. Blasey would be bullied into not testifying at all or that their hired gun Rachel Mitchell would expose her as a fraud whose story was riddled with more holes than Sonny Corleone. This was political theater and a sham trial. It was something out of the Soviet Union: "Yes, we shall look into your charges against Comrade Kavanaugh. Your family shall be safely locked away until he is cleared of all wrongdoing."

You knew the fix was in because no one actually subpoenaed Mark Judge, who Dr. Blasey named as Kavanaugh's accomplice. Judge is also a prominent and disturbing figure in the third allegation from Julie Swetnick. You can't expect Judge to voluntarily come forward because few people willingly incriminate themselves. That's why actual, serious criminal proceedings offer such witnesses immunity when compelling them to testify. But Judge was allowed to hide from the world with a carload of Superman comics. Mitchell gave the GOP cover yesterday, which FOX of course is running with, that Dr. Blasey's testimony wasn't sufficient grounds for an arrest or a search warrant. Has she never watched "Law & Order"? The detectives don't just question the accuser and politely let the accused scream at them. They interview witnesses. They actively try to find discrepancies in the accused's statement. Mitchell actually did the latter, when she stumbled upon the compelling "July 1st" entry in Kavanaugh's calendar that coincided with Dr. Blasey's account. But before she could probe further, Lindsey Graham interrupted and started grandstanding about how Democrats were trying to "destroy [Kavanaugh's] life." Defense attorneys don't normally get to derail the supposed prosecution mid-sentence.

Also, why are we treating this like a criminal proceeding in the first place? The Republicans somehow turned the options into "convict Kavanaugh for attempted rape" or "confirm Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court." If you're going to treat this as a game show, at the very least you shouldn't openly rig the outcome. For instance, Kavanaugh was allowed to repeatedly invoke the many women who signed statements attesting to how non-rapey he is. Yet those affirmations of his character weren't held to the same scrutiny as the accusations from Dr. Blasey, Swetnick, and Deborah Ramirez. For instance: "How well did you know Judge Kavanaugh in high school? Did you socialize with him outside of church? Did you spend much time with him during the specific period when the accusations are alleged to take place?"

White guys like Flake have been telling us for weeks now that we need to extend the presumption of "innocence" to someone up for a lifetime appointment to the nation's highest court. We glimpsed from the outright fury of most Republican Senators that a well-connected white man's ambitions are equal if not greater to the actual lives of people of color. They weep for Brett but collectively shrug for immigrant children separated from their families.

A fellow on Twitter made an interesting observation that this demand for proof beyond a "reasonable doubt" is not just about Kavanaugh but a reaction to #MeToo in general and the existential threat it poses to male impunity.

Kevin Spacey wasn't digitally erased from movies and fired from "House of Cards" after a "criminal proceeding" where he had the "presumption" of innocence. Matt Lauer, Harvey Weinstein, and Les Moonves fell because multiple women came forward and told their stories, as three women (so far) have done about Kavanaugh. And don't jump to rebut me by pointing out Spacey, Al Franken, and Louis C.K. admitted to wrongdoing. They primarily did so because people were suddenly believing women. But like the Macarena, this fad might tragically end. If men are allowed the "presumption of innocence" beyond simply maintaining their basic liberty but also their powerful positions, then there's no need to confess to anything. Just deny and deny, present yourself as the true victim, and make coming forward as hellish as possible for your accusers.

This is Senator Flake's lasting legacy.

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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