Democrats are furious in the wake of Christine Blasey Ford's accusations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Plenty of that fury is grounded in Ford's claim that Kavanaugh tried to rape her while both were high school students in the 1980s.
But it's not all about that. At least some of the Democratic intensity on this issue can be explained by history.
If Kavanaugh is confirmed, he will join Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court. For many liberals, that adds insult to injury. Thomas narrowly won Senate approval in the early '90s after Anita Hill testified that he had sexually harassed her when they worked together. Gorsuch filled a seat left vacant for a year after the death of Antonin Scalia, with Senate Republicans blocking Barack Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland.
Democrats are still angry over both of these incidents. And the desire to avenge Hill and Garland is strong.
"This time around, our senators have a chance to demonstrate that things really have changed since 1991," wrote Vanity Fair's Jill Filopovic after decrying "the brutally sexist and racist interrogation of Anita Hill."
"In my opinion, if Hill's story had been handled properly earlier in the process, and she had been given time to prepare to testify, Thomas would not today be the senior associate justice on the Supreme Court," argued Timothy Phelps, the reporter who broke Hill's accusations against Thomas. "But who can blame Ford for not wanting to go public after what happened to Hill?"
Hill herself took to the pages of The New York Times to weigh in on the Kavanaugh imbroglio. "There is no way to redo 1991, but there are ways to do better," she began, concluding, "In 2018, our senators must get it right."
Other liberals have noted that rejecting Kavanaugh — regardless of the veracity of Ford's specific claims — would consign him to a fate no worse than Garland's.
"The penalty that Kavanaugh is facing here, in the wake of allegation of attempted rape, is not getting a Supreme Court seat," tweeted commentator Chris Hayes. "It's literally the same penalty already imposed on [Merrick] Garland for the crime of … being nominated by a Democrat."
"If the Senate declines to promote Brett Kavanaugh, he will end up exactly where Merrick Garland did after his SCOTUS appointment — back as a judge on the D.C. Circuit," concurred Hayes' MSNBC colleague Ari Melber.
Phelps contended that "confirmation is a political process where the interests of the country are more important than the rights of any individual." He quoted Sen. Robert Byrd, the late West Virginia Democrat who also had an imperfect past, as saying, "If there is a doubt, I say resolve it in the interests of our country, its future. Let's not have a cloud of doubt for someone who will be on the court for many years."
Of course, most Senate Democrats were already ready to oppose Kavanaugh for the "crime" of being nominated by a president of the wrong party — or, to put it more charitably, for subscribing to a judicial philosophy with which they disagree, as most nominees of the opposition party do. That is their right, just as Republicans had the prerogative to balk at Garland for the same reason.
Suggesting that this is no more significant than the Senate implicitly endorsing the conclusion that a Supreme Court nominee is an attempted rapist seems a stretch. The preponderance of evidence would still matter here, whatever injustices were arguably done to Hill or Garland.
But there is no question that the forces at work here are much bigger than the facts surrounding this nomination. In the #MeToo era, many women have experiences similar to Ford's. They have also seen female accusers, sometimes themselves included, treated with undue skepticism and disrespect.
Listening to Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Mazie Hirono talk about Ford's charges against Kavanaugh, it is clear that they are driven as much by the broader issue of men mistreating women as the details of this particular case.
"I just want to say to the men of this country: Just shut up and step up. Do the right thing for a change," Hirono declared. "Not only do women like Dr. Ford, who bravely comes forward, need to be heard, but they need to be believed."
Given the extent of the sexual harassment and worse we know has occurred in this country, such a reaction is understandable and perhaps inevitable. Whether it is the best way to ensure the just resolution of the Kavanaugh-Ford matter remains to be seen.