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Hold Kavanaugh to his Own Standard for Bill Clinton, and Take Him Apart Piece by Painful Piece

Then, he wanted America to know every last distasteful thing the president had done. What right has the Supreme Court nominee have now to be shielded from the same treatment?

Michael Tomasky9.25.18 5:46 PM ET

“Piece by painful piece.”

If you don’t know those words as written by Brett Kavanaugh back in 1998, I urge you to commit them to memory in advance of Thursday’s questioning.

They appeared in a memo Kavanaugh wrote to his boss, special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, on August 15, 1998. We were in the midst of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, and Starr’s team was about to question Clinton in front of a grand jury.

“After reflecting this evening,” the memo began, “I am strongly opposed to giving the President any ‘break’ in the questioning regarding the details of the Lewinsky relationship…I have tried hard to bend over backwards and to be fair to him and to think of all reasonable defenses to his pattern of behavior. In the end, I am convinced that there really are none. The idea of going easy on him at the questioning is thus abhorrent to me.”

The subsequent questioning of Clinton went as Kavanaugh had urged, and a month later, Starr and Kavanaugh and team issued a report that read not like something published by the U.S. Government Printing Office but by Larry Flynt. There were discussion of the presidential johnson, and of when he had and had not ejaculated. The word “sex” or a variation appeared in the report 581 times. The word “Whitewater”—the failed land-deal the Clintons were involved in that was the original raison d’etre for Starr’s investigation—was mentioned four times.

The 445-page, X-rated report existed in the form it did for one purpose only: To make the American people become so morally repulsed by Clinton’s behavior that they would rise up in fury and demand that he leave office. And this was done, as the memo reveals, at the behest of Brett Kavanaugh.

And now here we are, 20 years later. No, say conservatives, and even some “let’s be fair” liberals. Let’s not get too detailed about Kavanaugh’s past. All that yearbook stuff; let’s not go there! Whatever he did, he doesn’t deserve to have his youthful errors thrown before the public in such ghastly detail.

Well, there may be other reasons, having to do with whatever remains of the dignity of the United States Senate, why senators shouldn’t ask Kavanaugh what the FFFFFFourth of July Club was (that’s six F’s, and you should get to know what each one stood for; none of them was for “feminism”). But one of those reasons is most definitely not that Kavanaugh doesn’t deserve it. He deserves every last bit of it based on the standard that he himself set 20 years ago.

Then, he wanted America to know every single distasteful thing Bill Clinton had done. What right has he today to be shielded from the same treatment?

Now you might say, well, Clinton was the sitting president, and Kavanaugh was a kid. Fair enough, I guess, but let’s not split hairs until they disappear here. The man is nominated for a seat on the Supreme Court. There are only nine of those. There are 325 million people in the United States, 240 million adults, millions of lawyers, and thousands of judges. Surely they could find somebody who isn’t accused of waving his wang in front of a young woman’s face and laughing about it.

Besides, it was Kavanaugh and the all-male Republican Judiciary Committee members who raised those stakes when they released that letter signed by 65 young women attesting to his good character. That was an invitation to test the proposition.

So I say let’s test it. Let’s test it first of all for the sake of exposing Kavanaugh’s hypocrisy. I hope some Democratic senator thinks to unearth the memo I quote from above and to ask Kavanaugh some questions about how he feels in retrospect having been the person who more than any other established the standard in modern American political life that no sexual detail is too unseemly for public scrutiny and consumption.

And let’s test it also for the sake of exposing not only Kavanaugh’s hypocrisy, but the hypocrisy of the values that perpetuate systems of protection for elite males’ appalling behavior toward women. Let’s not kid ourselves. The kinds of things Kavanaugh is accused of have gone on for generations, as men in positions of responsibility have nudged and winked and moved serial sexual abusers and harassers up the chain of power.

If that is ever to change, it will happen only when an event like this comes along—when someone who benefited from that system is not advanced but exposed, and the system has to come to terms with the ugly reality and reform itself.

The self-appointed moral guardians of this system will never lead its reforms. They will always fight those reforms to protect their own power and position, be that the Catholic Church “leaders” shuffling pedophile priests around from one parish to the next, or the evangelical ones defending Donald Trump.

A society’s real moral guardians are, throughout human history, the people who are at first accused of being immoral—the ones who are willing to lift the veil that has protected people like Brett Kavanaugh for centuries. The Democrats need to be clear about which side they’re on Thursday. They may decide for tactical reasons not to press this or that matter too hard, and I suppose they have to be mindful of possible blowback.

But I hope they do what Kavanaugh himself urged be done to Bill Clinton—examine every allegation and challenge every lie. Piece by painful piece.