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State of American History, Civics, and Politics

Kavanaugh and the Elephant in the Room: What Do Blind People See?

And so these men of Indostan disputed loud and long, Each in his own opinion Exceeding stiff and strong, Though each was partly in the right And all were in the wrong! Illustrator unknown - From Charles Maurice Stebbins & Mary H. Coolidge, Golden Treasury Readers: Primer, American Book Co. (New York), p. 89. (Wikipedia)

There is a parable about a group of blind people encountering an elephant for the first time. None of them know what an elephant is or looks like. To understand what the elephant is, each of the blind people touches the animal. However they do not touch the same part of the beast, therein hangs the tale.

Each blind person knows only the part they touch…and an elephant consists of many parts. One touches the thick legs, another the fan-like ears, a third the tusk, a fourth the trunk, a fifth the tale, a sixth the body. Each individual interpreted the whole of the elephant based on the part they had touched. Unfortunately, no one of them experienced the elephant in its entirety. They knew the truth only for the part they had touched and not for the elephant as a whole.

I was reminded of this fable when reading about the different ways people understand Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh. People seem to focus on the different facets of his being, the facet that is of most importance to them or the one that they know.

For example, to his wife of 17 years, he is a good and loving husband and father. That’s the part of his life that she knows. It is quite reasonable that this perception is truly what she believes and is accurate.

Similarly for the daughters. They know him only as their father, even for less time than his wife has known him. Once again, their perception of him seems quite reasonable, is what they truly believe, and is accurate.

In this instance I am reminded of the scene from the end of Field of Dreams. Kevin Costner sees his father as a young man before he had been worn down from life. He had never seen of known his father when he still had his whole life before him. He only knew him later in life when the dreams of youth had not been fulfilled. For Costner to glimpse the youth of the man who would become his father was like the story of the blind people and the elephant. The difference is we exist over time. The person we once were is not exactly who we are today. We grow up, usually. We mature, usually. We have life experiences which shape who we become and therefore who we are in the present. The perception Costner the child and teenager had of his father seems quite reasonable, is what he truly believed, and was quite accurate…and incomplete. He did not see the big picture until the magic of the Field of Dreams.

On the other hand, some people remain trapped in their Glory Days, reliving and retelling the stories of the big game when they were king and queen of the prom. In these cases, it is easy to see their past because they never stopped living in it.

Kavanaugh’s wife and children are seeing a part of their husband and father they should not have to see. People do grow up. People do mature. People do stop being teenagers. That part of their life always remains part of the adult’s life, but it is one they choose not to share with others. World War II veterans are notorious for not sharing their life in the war with their spouse, children, and grandchildren. It is something that at most they can talk about with their fellow band of brothers who had the same or similar experiences.

Strange as it may seem, when Democrats and Republicans see Kavanaugh, they see the exact same person. Each sees the potential 5th Republican legislator on the Supreme Court who will reverse Roe vs. Wade and support Republican legislation. They have different responses to that prospect but they both see him the same way. Each side then is dedicated to either confirming or rejecting Kavanaugh accordingly.

To do so each focuses on different aspects of Kavanaugh’s life. For the Republicans, he is the frequently FBI-vetted judge with a stellar career conducted in an honorable manner who in the standard hyperbole is the best qualified person ever nominated (until he isn’t).

By contrast, Democrats have questions about his adult career as a clerk for a sanctioned judge and for Ken Starr. They also have questions have his rulings and the meaning of those rulings if he were to be confirmed.

To some extent, all this is par for the course. But now there is the part of his life that normally is not seen in middle age. What did you do as a teenager? What did you do during the time in life when people are most likely to do something stupid and which they will regret later in life? What did you do as a youth that you prefer not to talk about now yet alone be exposed to a national audience?

I am reminded of a scene from the movie Amazon Women on the Moon, where a teenage boy seeks to quietly buy some condoms for immediate use with his date. He turns out to be the 1,000,000th customer and the next thing you he is part of a big celebration with banners, balloons, an emcee, and his parents. A nightmare come true. I certainly hope Kavanaugh’s parents are not alive to witness this spectacle.

Over the past few years, teenagers have learned there are unintended consequences to the events posted on social media. College admission officers may look at them. Potential employers may look at them. Even decades from now, the actions posted on social media today may continue to haunt the teenagers and young adults of today. Imagine what will happen when children of the future search on the web for what their parents did as teenagers.

The glimpse we get today in the teenage life of a Supreme Court nominee is exactly that…just a glimpse. Republicans do not want to know the truth of Kavanaugh’s life as a teenager; Democrats want to exploit it or at least what they think it is. The likelihood is that the full circus will not play out. After one day of hearings, the decision will be made that enough is enough. We have seen what just happened to Bill Cosby. We know that a defamation suit against our immature child President is working its way through the legal system with the possibility that one day he will have to appear on Fox and in court to defend himself. We know that his pledge to sue after the election the 19 women who have claimed harassment remains and will remain an unfulfilled campaign promise.  We also know that it is always about him so the longer Kavanaugh remains in the public arena the more comparisons will be made not simply to the Clarence Thomas hearings but to the life of Donald Trump who never really outgrew his teenage years.

Therefore, my prediction is the process will be cut short before it spirals out of control and begins to affect the political fortunes of others.