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Why Conservatives (Still) Like Kavanaugh

Senator Collins should be proud of herself. She will now potentially go down in history as the woman who made the overthrow of Roe v. Wade possible — despite her allegedly pro-choice views.

Her name will go down in the annals of self-hating women along with the likes of Phyllis Schlafly and Laura Ingraham. Swing-vote Senators Jeff Flake and Joe Manchin will likely emerge unscathed, given that men are rarely held responsible for contributing to women’s oppression. Kavanaugh’s successful confirmation is case in point.

It may be tempting to fall into dismay, to grow red in the face, to wonder how this could have happened — how could these educated people so brazenly fall for the (bad) acting of Judge Kavanaugh and doubt Dr. Ford, who even Fox News’s Chris Wallace called “extremely credible”? Moreover, how could they ignore retired Justice John Paul Stephen’s argument that Kavanaugh, even if innocent of sexual assault and drunken disorderly conduct, is still unfit to hold the gavel due to the hyper-partisanship he displayed after Dr. Ford’s testimony? These are important questions, but I believe they miss the larger truth.

The truth is that it’s irrelevant whether conservatives believe Dr. Ford: they simply do not care. They don’t care about Ford or any other outsider to their cause. They do not operate based on principles of justice — at least not the same principles of justice that liberals are familiar with. They are not concerned with a careful examination of the evidence when doing so might challenge their worldview. George Lakoff made similar claims several years ago. He explained why liberals fail to win elections, along with the hearts and minds of conservatives. Yet Democrats and liberals continue to operate in a vacuum and continue to lose winnable battles.

As painful as it was for liberals to watch Kavanaugh’s emotional display — complete with nostalgic sobbing, conspiratorial accusations, and awkward, self-righteous anger — conservative viewers likely empathized with him even more. In Arlie Russell Hochschild’s recent book, Strangers in Their Own Land, she demonstrates how conservatives “identify up” with those who are more privileged. They also do not like being told by over-zealous liberals that they should feel something for the little guy (read poor people, immigrants, sexual assault survivors, etc.). Bottom line: conservatives see in Judge Kavanaugh someone they admire while they see in Dr. Ford an obstacle to their own, in this case vicarious, success. Therefore, it is not Orwellian doublespeak to claim that both Ford and Kavanaugh were credible witnesses in the Sept. 28 Senate hearing; nor is it cause to dredge up dubious theories of mistaken identity. Both witnesses can be credible at the same time but in different ways: Ford is credible due to her temperament, professionalism, and consistency while Kavanaugh is credible due to his success and his loyalty to conservative causes. Oh, and it also helps that he’s a white man.

If there is one major takeaway for liberals — other than to keep fighting and avoid despair — it is increased awareness of how conservatives view this unprecedented fight for a Supreme Court majority. For the Left, it’s about what is just. It’s about empowering the disempowered, and, in the same vein, it’s about placing checks on power and privilege. For the Right, it’s about tribal loyalty. It’s about winning. Kavanaugh may not be perfect, but he’s their guy. They must protect him from those who would impede his progress, and, by extension, their own progress and that of their families and communities — as they see it. Justice for those outside their allegiances is not a compelling enough reason to be disloyal.

Susan Collins is a Republican who answers to her conservative base. This, to me, best explains her vote. History will be the ultimate judge.

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