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The latest fad in rightwing circles is insisting that Brett Kavanaugh belongs on the US Supreme Court because of Atticus Finch in Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. You see, children, Atticus Finch was a brave small-town lawyer who defended an innocent black man, Tom Robinson, who was falsely accused of raping a white woman, the daughter of the town drunk. Atticus Finch believed in Justice, and The Law, and Facts and Evidence. But above all else, he believed in the principle that everyone is equal in court, even a black man the whole town assumed was guilty. And so, shouldn't the US Senate be like Atticus Finch and support a friendless accused man, even though everyone has already decided he's guilty?

Yes, in this analogy, Brett Kavanaugh -- the wealthy preppy who partied like an animal in high school, was a sloppy drunk in college, went to Yale Law School, helped prosecute a president, already sits on one of the most powerful courts in the land, and has been nominated to sit on the highest one -- that Brett Kavanaugh is actually a poor despised black man falsely accused of rape, and what are these accusations but yet another high tech lynching for uppity blacks who dare think for themselves?

Rich Lowry at the National Review says so, and so does Allysia Finley at the Wall Street Journal. Senator John Cornyn even mused about the astounding parallels on the floor of the Senate yesterday.

Some commentators have called this our Atticus Finch moment, recalling the famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. We all remember that Atticus Finch was a lawyer who did not believe that a mere accusation was synonymous with guilt. He represented an unpopular person who many people presumed was guilty of a heinous crime because of his race and his race alone. We could learn from Atticus Finch now, during this time when there has been such a vicious and unrelenting attack on the integrity and good name of this nominee.

It's certainly nice Republicans have found a way to finally identify with an impoverished black person who's been victimized by the legal system. Of course, it does have to be a fictional example.


Cornyn gives us the Cliffs Notes version of the argument Finley makes at WSJ. Brett Kavanaugh is a man assumed to be guilty by the powers that be -- who somehow don't hold the majority in the Senate. It's just like in the novel, where the bigoted townspeople all know Tom Robinson has to be guilty of raping Mayella Ewell because he's black, even though there's no physical evidence. Finley cites Finch's stirring but ultimately futile closing statement to drive home the point.

He concludes: "Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal" but "there is a tendency in this year of grace, 1935, for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. . . . But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal," and that is before the law. "Our courts are the great levelers."

Oh, the magnificent equality of the law! (Which, as Anatole France reminded us, "forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets and steal loaves of bread.")

But of course, Finch knows better, as Scout, our narrator, reflects: "In the secret courts of men's hearts Atticus had no case. Tom was a dead man the minute Mayella Ewell opened her mouth and screamed."

Obviously, asks Finley, isn't that exactly like the accusations brought against poor Brett Kavanaugh?

Despite high praise from people who have known him for decades, liberals presume Judge Kavanaugh guilty on the basis of his race and sex.

Truly, being a white man appointed for consideration for the Supreme Court is perfectly analagous to Tom Robinson's predicament: No conservative can ever get a break from you bigots. Finley at least has the decency to remind us that unlike Mayella Ewell, there's no evidence Dr. Blasey fabricated her testimony, but nonetheless, since #MeToo has gotten out of control, she says, "Brett Kavanaugh was a dead man the moment Christine Ford opened her mouth."

See? Literary! Except of course Atticus Finch wasn't trying to get Tom Robinson a promotion. If Kavanaugh isn't confirmed, he won't so much get shot dead while trying to escape; he'll go back to being a judge on the DC Court of appeals. [Editrix's note: Ahem, IMPEACH.]

Over at the National Review, Lowry explains Atticus Finch's relevance for today:

Atticus Finch didn't #BelieveAllWomen. He didn't take an accusation at face value. He defended an alleged rapist, vigorously and unremittingly, making use of every opportunity provided to him by the norms of the Anglo-American system of justice. He did it despite considerable social pressure to simply believe the accuser.

See? EXACTLY the same as now.

Mind you, there's one or two little details that spoil the parallels the Right wants to draw here, and that's not even including the fact that, unlike Steve Martin, Brett Kavanaugh was not born a poor black child. Though that's a big one. The other slightly significant difference is that much though Republicans want to believe Christine Blasey Ford is but a pawn of demonic Dems who coached her to make up her story, she's no Mayella Ewell. Not being a fictional character sort of interferes with the analogy.

And let's be clear, Harper Lee wasn't writing a novel about victims of sexual assault. This was a novel about racial injustice, and, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in this excellent 2009 essay, it advances a particularly midcentury myth about racial injustice: Atticus Finch is no civil rights reformer but a liberal reformer who believes blacks don't so much need rights as they need to wait for whites to simply become better people who see them as human.

And Mayella Ewell is less a fully realized character than a type. And a seriously problematic type at that. She's constructed as poor white trash of the trashiest sort. The Ewells are all contemptible, an insult to genteel middle-class Southern mores, as Gladwell notes:

Robinson is the churchgoer, the "good Negro." Mayella, by contrast, comes from the town's lowest breed of poor whites. "Every town the size of Maycomb had families like the Ewells," Scout tells us. "No truant officers could keep their numerous offspring in school; no public health officer could free them from congenital defects, various worms, and the diseases indigenous to filthy surroundings." [...] The Ewells are trash. When the defense insinuates that Mayella is the victim of incest at the hands of her father, it is not to make her a sympathetic figure. It is, in the eugenicist spirit of the times, to impugn her credibility.

And of course, it's made plain Mayella had plotted -- saving pennies for a year to send her siblings off to get ice cream! -- in hopes of luring Tom Robinson into the house where she could take advantage of him, as a trashy trashy lady would. The false rape charge is a contingent strategy after Mayella's father caught her trying to have sex with Robinson. Finch's entire defense is built, says Gladwell, on a simple strategy aimed at the good respectable white men of the jury:

Finch wants his white, male jurors to do the right thing. But as a good Jim Crow liberal he dare not challenge the foundations of their privilege. Instead, Finch does what lawyers for black men did in those days. He encourages them to swap one of their prejudices for another.

Gee, the parallels to Christine Blasey Ford's allegations just don't hold up that well, do they? Except, perhaps, in the construction of a fictitious world where women really shouldn't be believed, because after all, they're simply out to disguise their own slutty desires.

Gosh, what noble folks these Republicans are.

Their version of Atticus Finch would tell Scout the real secret of justice: "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view. Especially if he's a Yale man. He's better than you. That's just how it is, Scout."

[WaPo / WSJ (paywalled? Try the Twitter linky) / National Review / Slate / New Yorker]

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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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