Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony Thursday morning could be devastating to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation chances.
First, her demeanor felt credible. It may not be right or fair, but the truth is that we size people up based on all sorts of factors we might not be consciously aware of. This includes things like body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions. Just as I didn’t find Judge Kavanaugh terribly likable during his original testimony (I think it was the smirk), Ford came across as both sincere and likable. This doesn’t mean she is telling the truth, but in the court of public opinion, which matters greatly, she came across as compelling and credible.
The story she tells also sounds plausible. Recently at Vox, Sandra Newman observed that “[T]he striking thing about [Ford’s] story is that it’s so undramatic. False stories typically have a lurid quality, often involving bizarre forms of cruelty that don’t always strictly make sense.”
Before the alleged attempted rape, the picture Ford paints rings pretty true to anyone who’s ever been a teenager in America. “When I got to the small gathering, people were drinking beer in a small living room on the first floor of the house. I drank one beer that evening. Brett and Mark were visibly drunk. Early in the evening, I went up a narrow set of stairs leading from the living room to a second floor to use the bathroom. When I got to the top of the stairs, I was pushed from behind into a bedroom. I couldn't see who pushed me. Brett and Mark came into the bedroom and locked the behind them. There was music already playing in the bedroom. It was turned up louder by either Brett or Mark once we were in the room.”
Later, Ford continued, saying: “It was hard for me to breathe, and I thought that Brett was accidentally going to kill me. Both Brett and Mark were drunkenly laughing during the attack. They both seemed to be having a good time. Mark was urging Brett on, although at times he told Brett to stop. A couple of times I made eye contact with Mark and thought he might try to help me, but he did not.”
This doesn’t sound like some absurd scenario about some ritualistic Satanic sacrifice, but rather, something that has probably (sadly) happened all too many times in suburban America. This, I think, lends an air of believability to her charges.
During her opening statement and in response to questions, Ford also did a good job of explaining questions regarding the curious timing and rollout of her accusations, as well as addressing the possibility that she might have confused Brett Kavanaugh with someone else.
In other words, her testimony refuted most of the predictable (or, in many cases, telegraphed) concerns about her story. She also did not waver or open the door to the possibility that any of these alternative explanations (including a possible memory lapse, or case of mistaken identity) could explain away this whole ordeal. Indeed, she told Senator Durbin that she is “100 percent” sure Kavanaugh was the assailant.
There’s also the obvious emotional impact, which will be hard for Kavanaugh to overcome. Regardless of his performance, it seems unlikely that a privileged white man, who is being accused of a despicable act, could conjure up a performance that is, from an emotional impact, equally as compelling. At times, Ford fought back tears. This was especially poignant when talking about how Kavanaugh and Mark Judge drunkenly laughed during the alleged assault.
Even if Kavanaugh comes across as just as believable and likable as Ford, in a situation like this, the tie goes to the alleged victim.
This was somewhat predicable, which is why I thought it would be a mistake for Ford to decline to testify (remember, she hinted she might not do so unless various demands were met).
It’s too soon to say how this will all end. Maybe there will be some piece of evidence that emerges and exonerates Kavanaugh. But I doubt it. This is a “he said/she said” story, and the truth is that we are at a point where the presumption of guilt is more powerful than the presumption of innocence.). As long as Dr. Ford didn’t implode or come across as completely unhinged, she was always going to have a good chance of being believed by a majority of the nation. She exceeded expectations and easily cleared that bar. The question that remains is whether it will matter.