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What a week in Washington, D.C.
On Monday evening at a restaurant near the U.S. Capitol, a small crowd of protesters ambushed Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and his wife, Heidi, as they made their way to a booth in the upscale eatery. The demonstrators heckled the couple until they left: “We believe survivors!”
Cruz serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee, the panel set to conduct a public hearing on Thursday regarding accusations that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted a high-school girl, Christine Ford, when he was a teenager. Another woman claims he exposed himself to her during a drinking game as a college student.
On Wednesday, a third woman, Julie Swetnick, claimed she was aware of efforts by Kavanaugh to “spike the punch” and target inebriated girls at parties she attended in the early 1980s. She claimed she was gang-raped at a party where Kavanaugh was present. (She didn’t say that Kavanaugh raped her.) Swetnick said she has witnesses to back up her claims, but she didn’t identify those witnesses publicly.
Kavanaugh has denied all the accusations, and he called the latest claims “ridiculous and from the Twilight Zone.”
Back at the D.C. restaurant on Monday, activists demanded to know how Cruz would vote on Kavanaugh’s nomination, as the scene grew intense. The senator guided his wife back to the door, and one activist yelled: “Fascist, racist, anti-gay!” When the pair left, a demonstrator warned other patrons: “This is what’ll happen to you if you support Kavanaugh.”
Desperate measures during a vexing week.
But left-wing activists weren’t the only ones taking drastic steps. Late last week, Ed Whelan, the president of the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), mounted a defense of Kavanaugh by pointing to a high-school classmate of his as a potential attacker of Christine Ford in the early 1980s.
Whelan named the man and posted photos of him, noting a similarity in appearance with Kavanaugh. He posted floor plans of the home the man may have lived in as a teenager more than 30 years ago, and he suggested the layout matched Ford’s description of the party on the evening she claims Kavanaugh assaulted her.
In this case, Whelan seemed to recognize the enormity of his error: He deleted the tweets and apologized for what he called “an appalling and inexcusable mistake of judgment. …” He offered his resignation to the EPPC. Board members asked Whelan to take a leave of absence instead, and said they would review the situation in a month.
For conservatives—including those eager to see Kavanaugh confirmed—the debacle offers an important dose of clarity: In the quest for truth, don’t undermine truth to achieve a desired end. That risks making an idol of something that is important but not ultimate.
It’s true that the debate over Kavanaugh carries high stakes, and his accusers bear the burden of proof when bringing such serious charges against the judge at the very end of his confirmation process. No direct witnesses have corroborated the claims.
Indeed, some conservatives believe Democrats will say anything to topple Kavanaugh. But those same conservatives should be careful not to play loose with other pieces of the case in the quest to defend the judge, even if they believe they are right in their cause.
This involves a commitment to taking great care when speaking about either side of the debate. On the Christian Broadcasting Network last week, Franklin Graham said he didn’t believe that something Kavanaugh may or may not have done as a teenager was relevant to whether he should be confirmed today.
But he also told the network: “There wasn’t a crime that was committed. These are two teenagers and it’s obvious that she said no and he respected it and walked away—if that’s the case, but he says he didn’t do it. … Regardless if it was true, these are two teenagers and she said no and he respected that so I don’t know what the issue is.”
The problem: This isn’t what Ford claims at all. She does say that she and Kavanaugh were both teenagers, but she claims he pinned her down, covered her mouth with his hand, and tried to remove her clothes before she managed to get away. That would constitute a crime, even if committed by a teenager. Ford is certainly not describing a scenario where a teenage boy respected her and walked away.
Again, we don’t know whether this scenario happened or if it happened the way Ford remembers it. The hearing on Thursday will give opportunity to hear from her, and to hear Kavanaugh’s response.
But it still matters how we talk about the claims in an ordeal so full of confusion it’s difficult to see the way forward. (Whatever happened with Ford, it’s at least important for teenage girls to know if they do find themselves in such a scenario, it’s not a harmless situation they should dismiss.)
The one thing that conservatives—particularly conservative Christians—should offer in such troubling days is a commitment to speaking the truth carefully in all circumstances. Often that means insisting on evidence to substantiate claims, and that’s an important part of promoting truth.
But as Whelan learned—and seemed to acknowledge publicly—it also means that anything less than being careful with the truth in an effort to promote the truth runs the risk of undermining a whole cause itself.