Even the worst situation can produce at least a little good. The early remarks of prominent Democrat politicians following Christine Blasey Ford’s accusation against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh provide insight into their intellectual deficiencies and a helpful guide to voting.
For those who pay little attention to the news, Ford accused Kavanaugh of groping her at a high school party about 35 years ago. She didn’t remember exactly when or where it happened. She couldn’t remember telling anyone at the time. The memory came to her twenty-nine years later, in 2012, in the course of marital counseling. When Ford’s story was published, Kavanaugh immediately denied knowing Ford or having any such encounter with her, adding that he has never behaved in such a manner with any woman.
The Ford legal team made a number of demands to Senator Chuck Grassley, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the most bizarre of which was that Brett Kavanaugh, the accused, testify first and that Ford, the accuser, testify after him. In other words, to have Kavanaugh answer the charge under oath before it was made under oath.
What the lawyers were demanding was the legal equivalent of grading a student’s work before she has done it, writing a book review before reading the book, or in political terms, passing a law before knowing what is in it. (If the latter analogy seems familiar, it is because Nancy Pelosi actually recommended it for Obama’s health care plan, and Congress followed her recommendation.)
The responses of a number of Democratic politicians rivaled Ford’s lawyers’ demand in foolishness. Here are five notable examples:
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
In what could be a textbook example of circular reasoning, Gillibrand publicly stated about Ford, “I believe her because she’s telling the truth,” which amounts to “I believe she’s telling the truth because I believe she’s telling the truth.” Elementary logic specifies that mere restatement of a belief does not qualify as evidence for the belief.
Perhaps believing she was on a logical “roll,” the Senator went on to offer this convoluted reasoning: “Someone who is lying does not ask the FBI to investigate their claims. Who is not asking the FBI to investigate these claims? The White House. Judge Kavanaugh has not asked to have the FBI review these claims. Is that the reaction of an innocent person? It is not.” Let me attempt to clarify her syllogism: “Liars would not ask the FBI to investigate. Kavanaugh did not ask the FBI to investigate. Therefore Kavanaugh is a liar. Case closed.”
That is as logical as saying, “Alligators would not ask the FBI to investigate. Kavanaugh did not ask the FBI to investigate. Therefore Kavanaugh is an alligator.” Aside from the technical flaws in Gillibrand’s reasoning, her mistake may be stated simply—she incorrectly assumed there is no conceivable reason an innocent person might not ask the FBI to investigate an alleged crime. Here is one: there are not enough basic facts, such as where and when it occurred, for any meaningful inquiry to be conducted.
This was not the first time that Gillibrand’s enthusiasm over “women’s issues” led her to abuse logic. On a similar occasion, a Washington rally, she said, “This is a line that’s been drawn about whether we are going to criminalize women, whether we are going to be arresting women for making decisions about their bodies.” [Emphasis added] As a lawyer, she should know that laws criminalize actions, not people—for example, burglary is criminalized and the people who commit it become guilty of the crime. Moreover, overturning Roe v Wade could result in leaving abortion law up to the individual states.
Senator Mazie Hirono
The Senator from Hawaii, described by the Chicago Tribune as “one of Ford’s staunchest defenders, eclipsing higher-profile Democratic senators, including some with presidential aspirations who have angled for attention,” made this unhelpful contribution concerning Kavanaugh:
“I expect all of the enlightened men in our country, cause [sic] there must be millions of men out there who are enlightened who also [sic] will rise up to say we cannot continue the victimization and the smearing of someone like Dr. Ford . . .” [She then added in almost the next breath] “Guess who is perpetuating all of these kinds of actions? It’s the men in this country. And I just want to say to the men in this country—just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change.”
Let’s get this straight: She says many men are enlightened and should rise up and speak in agreement with her. Yet she also says men (not some but men in general) are “perpetrating all of these kinds of actions” and all of them should “shut up” and at the same time “step up.” Which is it? Are the men enlightened and evidently honorable, or perpetrators of evil? And how can they both shut up and step up?
And if Hirono is “eclipsing higher-profile Democratic senators” with such puerile babbling, what does that suggest about their competence?
Senator Richard Blumenthal
After Hirono spoke, the evidently enlightened Senator Richard Blumenthal stepped up but chose to speak up rather than shut up. He said the charges against Kavanaugh are “serious and credible” and that he believes Ford. (Whether Hirono praised him for upstepping, then chastised him for not upshutting is not recorded.) I use Hirono’s term enlightened for Blumenthal, but a more appropriate term would be clairvoyant because it takes that gift to be able to believe someone who doesn’t know the when and where of her own accusation.
Senator Kamala Harris
Senator Harris concluded that Ford had “nothing to gain” by going public with her accusation and went on to say, “I think it’s going to be about, it comes down to credibility . . . and it’s going to be about listening to what each party has to say, but I believe her.” It is painful to see someone torture her own thinking process in this way. First, the issue is not about whether Ford had something to gain by making the accusation—gain or loss is irrelevant—but about whether her story is true or false. To acknowledge this is not to cast aspersions on Ford’s integrity; her accusation could be false simply because her memory is mistaken. As memory expert Elizabeth explains in Witness for the Defense, . . . “Every time we recall an event, we must reconstruct the memory, and with each recollection the memory may be changed—colored by succeeding events, other people’s recollections or suggestions, increased understanding, or a new context.”
Secondly, credibility means believability. Thus for Senator Harris to say the issue is about credibility, which requires listening to the testimony of both parties (that had not yet been given) and then to declare she already believes Ford, is to contradict herself.
As if this self-embarrassment were not enough, Harris goes on to say, “I believe that the FBI should be compelled to do its job in terms of completing their background investigation and that’s not being done.” Given the clearly reported fact that Ford has no knowledge of when or where the alleged offense occurred, it would be virtually impossible for the FBI or any other agency to do a meaningful investigation. Yet that elementary fact seems to have eluded Senator Harris.
Senator Chris Coons
This senator’s main contribution to the discussion of the Ford accusation was to argue that Kavanaugh should bear the legal burden of disproving it. His exact words, as reported, were, “It is Judge Kavanaugh who is seeking a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court and who I think now bears the burden of disproving these allegations.” This viewpoint challenges a couple of millennia of logic and centuries of European and America legal precedent. These estimable traditions hold, respectively, that it is impossible to prove that one did NOT do something, and that innocence is PRESUMED and guilt that must be proven. Coons’ formulation reverses the latter, presuming guilt!
Coons’ viewpoint recalls the medieval practice of “trial by ordeal,” of which there were innumerable variations—notably, plunging the accused in freezing or boiling water. Dying from the experience was considered proof of guilt; survival, of innocence.
The flaws in the thinking of the Democrat senators all qualify as sophomoric. But the senators are not college sophomores. Far from it. They are highly educated professionals: Kirsten Gillibrand holds degrees from Dartmouth College (magna cum laude) and the UCLA School of Law; Mazie Hirono, from the University of Hawaii and Georgetown Law School; Richard Blumenthal, from Harvard College and Yale Law School (he also attended Cambridge University); Kamala Harris, from Howard College and UC, Hastings; and Christ Coons, from from Amherst College, Yale Divinity School, and Yale Law School. Note that all five are lawyers and yet not one of them seems to be versed in the basic principles of logic or the fundamental legal principle of “innocent until proven guilty.” (They might consider suing their educational institutions for nonfulfillment of services.)
Here, finally, is an even more troubling fact. The Democratic colleagues of these five in the House and Senate presumably share their view. Some have said so publicly, others have allowed their silence to imply agreement. More than a few made clear before the accusation was made, and even before the President chose Kavanaugh, that they would not support anyone the President nominated.
To the best of my knowledge, no other Democrat has publicly challenged the views of the five or the ignorance of law and logic they manifested. Therefore, it is reasonable to regard those views as the views of the Democrat Party. Voters will do well to keep this in mind on election day.
Author’s postscript: As I was writing the above final paragraph, news agencies were reporting that a third woman has made an allegation implicating Kavanaugh in a gang rape that she said occurred in roughly the same time period as the original alleged act. Moreover, the hearing involving Ford and Kavanaugh is scheduled for tomorrow, Thursday, September 27 and the matter will likely become even more fluid thereafter. Perhaps as new developments occur, the five senators will display greater intellectual competence. I hope they do for the sake of the country. In any case, however, acquitting themselves better then will not change the deficiencies of the responses examined here.
Vincent Ryan Ruggiero is an internationally recognized expert in the Critical Thinking movement. He is a professor emeritus of the State University of New York, Delhi College. In addition to his work in academia, he was a social caseworker and an industrial engineer. He is also the author of twenty-one books, including Warning: Nonsense Is Destroying America and The Practice of Loving Kindness. He writes for the Catholic Journal.