Susan Collins Embraced Mendacity

Photograph Source: U.S. Congress – Public Domain

I was raised in the Bronx; Susan Collins grew up in Caribou, Maine. She graduated from Caribou schools; I graduated from Public School 95. Caribou was once a thriving potato shipping hub – her parents were successful lumber merchants – and home to Loring Air Force Base. It has a population of 7,900 according to the latest census. My old neighbourhood alone now has an estimated population of 50,000. The Bronx, one of New York City’s five boroughs, has a population of close to 1,500,000, roughly the population of the entire state of Maine.

Besides geographic and population differences between Caribou and the Bronx, there are considerable cultural differences that have had significant political consequences today. People from rural Maine, I am told, are hard-working and respectful. The state’s motto “Dirigo,” which means “I lead,” combined with the Polar Star on the state seal give an impression of stability and trust.

And the people from the Bronx? Being sceptical if not cynical is a necessity for survival on the streets in the `hood. While the era of “the Bronx is burning” has passed, The French expression “C’est le Bronx,” to describe chaos is still used. People from the Bronx have an inherent lack of confidence in others. Street smarts are not synonymous with stability and trust.

One of my favorite movie scenes is the heart to heart talk between Big Daddy (Burl Ives) and his washed up, alcoholic son, Brick (Paul Newman), in the film “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.” As the cancer-stricken, soon-to-die Big Daddy tries to tell his son the facts of life and all the hypocrisy he has had to put up with, he says: “What’s that smell in this room? Didn’t you notice it, Brick? Didn’t you notice a powerful and obnoxious odor of mendacity in this room? There ain’t nothin’ more powerful than the odor of mendacity… You can smell it.”

Smell mendacity! What a wonderful image. Big Daddy is recounting to his son how he realized how people were lying to him. Big Daddy knew he was being lied to. He wanted his son to realize how much lying existed in the world.

Susan Collins couldn’t smell mendacity when she interviewed Brett Kavanaugh during his confirmation process. She questioned him privately in her office as well as publicly during the Senate confirmation hearing. After hours of questioning the future justice, she couldn’t smell Kavanaugh’s mendacity.

In a statement issued just after the Supreme Court and Justice Kavanaugh voted to overturn Roe v. Wade, Collins called the Supreme Court’s decision “inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon.” (A similar statement was issued by Senator Joe Manchin, but we are focusing on Collins.)

“I do not believe that Brett Kavanaugh will overturn Roe v. Wade,” Collins told CNN in 2018 during the confirmation process. “I am a don’t-rock-the-boat kind of judge,” Kavanaugh has been reported to have told Collins when she asked him about overturning Roe v. Wade.

Now she says: “This decision [overturning Roe v. Wade] is inconsistent with what Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh said in their testimony and their meetings with me, where they both were insistent on the importance of supporting long-standing precedents that the country has relied upon.”

The New York Times wrote: “’I feel misled,’” Ms. Collins said in an interview, adding that the decision was in stark contrast to the assurances she had received privately from Justice Kavanaugh, who had made similar, if less exhaustive, pronouncements at his public hearing.”

Collins feels “misled”? She couldn’t smell mendacity? While it may seem too simple to equate Collins’ background in Caribou, Maine, with her naiveté in believing Kavanaugh would respect precedent and not vote to overturn Roe v. Wade, a little bit of Bronx cynicism might have gone a long way to stopping Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

While there are many reasons to enjoy the fresh smells in the Pine Tree State of Maine, a couple of whiffs of the “obnoxious odor of mendacity” in Collins’s nostrils might have saved the court and the American people the catastrophe that is taking place. Demean all you want the cynics from the Bronx like me, but a little cynicism outweighs a little naiveté any day. Just ask the millions of women who will be denied abortions.

Daniel Warner is the author of An Ethic of Responsibility in International Relations. (Lynne Rienner). He lives in Geneva.