Senator Susan Collins Casts a “Grievously Wrong” Vote to Confirm Kavanaugh

When Senator Susan Collins of Maine took to the floor of the Senate to announce whether or not she would vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court, the nation seemed to hold its breath: would Collins join her fellow female, Republican colleague Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to put an end to the nomination of a man suspected of perjury and accused of sexual assault, a judge whose “emotional”, combative and arrogant testimony before the Senate committee suggested that he was not judicious, honest and fair-minded enough to serve on the Supreme Court?

It took Sen. Collins about forty-five minutes of speaking to get the definitive answer out: no, she was not going to join the brave vote of Republican Sen. Murkowski. Collins said she would vote to confirm Kavanaugh, and this afternoon she–along with all other Senate Republicans except Murkowski and, sadly, including Democratic Senator Joe Manchin, who said, after Sen. Collins’ speech, he found Kavanaugh to be “a qualified jurist”– did just that.

Senator Collins seemed enamored with Judge Kavanaugh’s many previous rulings and his stated support for Supreme Court precedent. In her speech, Collins was confident that Judge Kavanaugh won’t stray and join his fellow conservatives to overturn or severely limit the precedent in favor of legal abortion:

“But, someone who believes that the importance of precedent has been rooted in the Constitution would follow long-established precedent except in those rare circumstances where a decision is “grievously wrong” or “deeply inconsistent with the law.” Those are Judge Kavanaugh’s phrases.”

Why Kavanaugh and his fellow conservatives wouldn’t consider Roe v. Wade “grievously wrong” and overturn it Sen. Collins did not say.

Nor did Senator Collins mention what she thought about the seemingly staged angry, arrogant, partisan testimony of Judge Kavanaugh following the appearance of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford before the Senate Committee. Clearly Collins had decided long ago that Kavanaugh was Supreme Court material, and nothing could convince her otherwise.

And so Senator Susan Collins of Maine cast the deciding vote to place Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. A vote that most women and a majority of Americans will long consider grievously wrong.


Benjamin Wittes on Judge Brett Kavanaugh: I Know Him But I Wouldn’t Confirm Him

Writing in The Atlantic, Benjamin Wittes, Editor in chief of Lawfare and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, explains why he has decided that Judge Brett Kavanugh, a man he knows and respects, is not worthy of being confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Though Wittes admits that he found Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony slightly more credible than Kavanaugh’s, what matters most to Wittes is the injudicious temperament Judge Kavanaugh displayed at the Senate hearing last Thursday:

“What is important is the dissonance between the Kavanaugh of Thursday’s hearing and the judicial function. Can anyone seriously entertain the notion that a reasonable pro-choice woman would feel like her position could get a fair shake before a Justice Kavanaugh? Can anyone seriously entertain the notion that a reasonable Democrat, or a reasonable liberal of any kind, would after that performance consider him a fair arbiter in, say, a case about partisan gerrymandering, voter identification, or anything else with a strong partisan valence?”

You can find the whole thoughtful essay at the The Atlantic website.

“We Need a New Song”: A New Book on the Old Story of Misogyny and War

“If the moments sometimes clash awkwardly with the more classical sections of prose, they also force readers to compare the misogyny of ancient Greece with the misogyny of the present.” —Sophie Gilbert review of The Silence of the Girls by novelist Pat Barker

There is no doubt that women and girls have been–and, as recent events show, continue to be– the victims of a “toxic masculinity” that reaches back to the rosy-fingered dawn of Western history and literature. Recently some female writers have taken to reworking the literature of the ancient Greeks from a more modern, feminist perspective, including scholar Emily Wilson’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey and Madeline Miller’s novel Circe.

The latest book of feminist re-telling of Homer’s world is a novel called The Silence of the Girls by English novelist Pat Barker.

Sophie Gilbert, writer at The Atlantic magazine, offers a brief review of Barker’s novel. Gilbert includes the following quote uttered by the book’s narrator and heroine, the princess-made-slave named Briseis:

“I looked at Andromache who’d have to live the rest of her amputated life as a slave, and I thought, We need a new song.

Gilbert helpfully makes the contemporary connection between women and war:

The Silence of the Girls is the new song Briseis dreams of: a narrative that weighs what war means to women.”

Patriarchy, under which men, too, have suffered by having to conform to an often brutal version of masculinity, needs to be corrected. Pat Barker’s latest work of fiction (a book I have not yet read) may prove to be a leading song of liberation that all women and men need to hear.

For the International Day of Peace: A Brief Reflection

Today the whole planet–at least the human part– celebrates the United Nations created International Day of Peace, first established in 1981.

This year’s theme honors the 70th anniversary of the U.N. Universal Declaration of Human Rights by suggesting “the right to peace”, a right not explicitly declared in the UDHR.

If we think of peace as a human right (the right not to be the victim of or a participant in war), I think we also have to extend the right to peace to community, family and individual relationships. How can we foster the local reconciliations, the forgiveness and sympathies big and small that are necessary for peace among people– of different races, genders, classes, religions, sexual orientations, political affiliations, etc. ?

In the United States at present there are forces at work, both political and technological, that are encouraging a near constant stream of antagonism, a verbal and governing aggressiveness that is dividing the nation. How do those of us interested in preserving democracy through truth and justice address the issues in a way that does not disturb the essential peace we need to prevent a damaging descent into stark division, censorship and possible violence?

I think we must not retreat into facile kinds of compromise, but, on the other hand, we should speak with care, be firm but calm and kindly, use humor and humility, keep our voices clear but not shrill or condemning. We should resist the temptation to cling to our various tribes while striving to silence the “enemy.” The goal is always peace, or as much peace as we can achieve amidst the inevitable human conflicts. To meet this goal, the means must justify and judge the ends, for only peaceable means will accomplish the sort of peaceable ends that have any chance of enduring both at home and abroad.



Why I am a “bleeding-heart liberal”

To be “liberal” is to be “open to new ideas” and “favourable to or respectful of individual rights and freedoms.”

Given the above definition, can a true liberal be a promoter or defender of that most ancient flaw of humanity–war? Is such a thing as a “liberal hawk” logical or possible?

One of the oldest ideas in all of human civilization is the idea of war (and all kinds of violent oppression) as a way of resolving conflicts, during which, practically speaking, there is no way to be respectful of human rights and freedoms. History proves that “war crimes” and the killing of innocent people are inevitable in any war. Though war is often justified in terms of protecting “freedom” and human rights– “humanitarian intervention” is the euphemism– the means of war are inherently inhumane and stand opposed to many kinds of religious values, including the Christian call to “love one’s neighbor” and, harder, “love your enemies.” Nor is war democratic, even in defense of democracy. To kill people indiscriminately (like dropping bombs or invading cities) to “save lives” and defend rights is moral hypocrisy in which the ends are said to justify the means.  Given the ancient, old-fashioned failure of war, and given war’s inherent violation of human rights, how can any “liberal” be anything but an anti-war activist?

It is now fashionable to make distinctions between liberal and progressive; a progressive is a more liberal liberal, or a left-liberal, or a populist liberal, etc. Then there is the “democratic socialist”–more liberal, or radical, I guess, than a progressive. But concerning foreign policy, almost the entire “left” side of the political spectrum are apologists for war, as long as war is not used too often or allowed to last too long in any one location.

There are, of course, various anti-war organizations that spring out of liberal or liberally religious sympathies: Code Pink, Peace Action, War Resister’s League, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, World Beyond War, Religious Society of Friends, Pax Christi, Jewish Voice for Peace, etc. But these are liberal fringe groups without much, if any, influence on the Democratic Party or most “liberal” members of Congress at present.

If the term “liberal” is no longer liberal enough to signify an anti-war perspective, I prefer to adopt the old term, once used pejoratively, of “bleeding-heart liberal.” This relates directly to the sense of compassion and Christ-like renunciation of violent means which can resurrect liberal as the all-encompassing intellectual and emotional word for truly humane and democratic civilization.