What is wrong—deeply wrong!—with the Republican men of the Senate Judiciary Committee?
Apparently not content to simply dismiss Brett Kavanaugh’s third accuser, Julie Swetnick, the committee led by Chuck Grassley posted a letter on its website from a former weatherman and failed politician who claims he met Swetnick in a bar and cheated on his wife with her.
The really galling thing here is the realization that, 27 years later, these moldy fossil men still think that portraying a woman as “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty”—the term that David Brock, Republican-hitman-turned-Democratic-apologist, coined for their attacks on Anita Hill in 1991—is an acceptable political strategy.
The weatherman, Dennis Ketterer, made a point in his letter of writing that he and Swetnick were not “emotionally involved” and “never had sex,” but “there was physical contact.” He claims that Swetnick told him she sometimes enjoys having sex with multiple men and that the first time she did so was in high school.
But she couldn’t possibly be referring to a rape, because she didn’t tell this weatherman, with whom she had no emotional involvement, about having ever been “sexually assaulted, raped, gang raped or having sex against her will.” She also didn’t, in 1993, apropos of nothing, mention Brett Kavanaugh to this virtual stranger with whom, he says, she had a solely physical relationship. (Kavanaugh was a law clerk in 1993, so it’s unclear why she would talk about him to a weatherman who would have no reason to know who he was.)
Three years later, the weatherman writes, he decides to run for Congress as a Democrat and thought Swetnick could help him because of her “personality, great smile and good looks.” He had lost her phone number by then, but that didn’t deter him from calling her father (it’s unclear why he knew her father) to say he thought Swetnick, a woman he apparently hasn’t talked to in three years, should work on his campaign. According to the weatherman, Swetnick’s father told him she had “psychological and other” (?) problems at the time. The weatherman seems shocked that the father of a woman with whom he had a brief physical interaction and hadn’t talked to in three years was “rather abrupt” and “hung up on” him.
(One of my friends once wanted me to tell an annoying guy who randomly asked for her contact info years later that she had died, so I feel like we can be a little skeptical of this “psychological and other” problems thing.)
The weatherman says he was abused when he was nine years old by his grandfather’s best friend, so he knows “what it’s like to be sexually assaulted and not be believed.” That is truly sad, and my heart goes out to him.
In the next sentence, he says, “I also know what it’s like to be accused of something significant and not be believed.” Apparently he was not interested in talking about things he didn’t do, because he provided no further information.
He felt really bad, he said, about potentially hurting his family and “Julie,” but he also felt bad when he watched Kavanaugh’s hearing and “saw Mrs. Kavanaugh looking so sad” so then he wanted to tell her that he thinks Kavanaugh actually didn’t rape one of the women who accused him. So he says he talked to a “church leader” who put him in touch with another “church leader” who got in touch with Orrin Hatch’s office.
I suppose we are meant to believe that the failed politician-weatherman received no coaching to write this letter, and that it brought Hatch no joy to help the letter find its way to the public in order to humiliate a woman he’s never met—a woman whose alleged “psychological problems” and personal sexual preferences did not prevent her from getting approved for a variety of government security clearances, something that Kavanaugh himself cited as evidence of his righteousness. I’m sure that when Hatch tweeted the link to the letter, there was not a trace of glee on his dead-eyed, creepy Keebler elf face.
All of this on the same day that Donald Trump, on stage at a rally in Mississippi, mocked Christine Blasey Ford at length in a truly horrific display of his complete lack of not even statesmanship, but basic human decency and respect. The President of the United States galvanized a mob to roar laughter at a woman who said the most powerful memory from her assault was the sound of two young men laughing on top of her.
It’s “a little bit nutty and a little bit slutty” all over again. In fact, what they’re doing to Swetnick now is remarkably similar to how they smeared Valerie Wright, a witness they feared would tank Thomas’s nomination if she was allowed to testify on television, in front of the entire nation.
Wright was a newspaper editor who worked for Thomas at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after Hill left; they didn’t know each other. She had similar accusations against Thomas as Hill did. Jill Abramson, who co-wrote the definitive book on the Thomas debacle, Strange Justice, said Wright would have been “the most devastating witness.”
Wright told the committee about Thomas commenting on her breasts, and had a colleague ready to testify that Wright had complained at the time that Thomas told her the hair on her legs was sexy. The colleague was recovering from a hospital procedure but intentionally cut down on her pain medication so she could be lucid when she testified. But she was never called to do so.
Instead, Republicans spread a rumor that Wright had been fired by Thomas for calling someone a slur against gay people. The purported target later said Wright never uttered the word, but it was too late. “It’s bothersome that nobody on the committee even bothered to probe” the rumor, Wright said years later. “If they had probed just a little bit, they probably could have realized he wasn’t telling the truth, just asked him where did that happen and what did you say to her.”
The rumor about the slur wasn’t the only smear against Wright, though it was the most memorable. The New York Times delicately intimated that she might “present a more complex picture” than Hill, citing criticism from Senate Republicans that she was “a disgruntled former employee with an uneven work history whose testimony will not be viewed as credible.” Her “uneven work history” involves being dismissed as an aide for a North Carolina Democrat in 1978, and writing a resignation letter when she quit a position at the United States Agency for International Development in 1984 “in anger over what she felt was mistreatment by her superiors.” Is anyone surprised that government officials in 1984 didn’t appreciate not just a woman but a black woman refusing to just quietly take abuse from her bosses?
Anita Hill. Valerie Wright. Christine Blasey Ford. Julie Swetnick. Are we doomed to repeat this cruel psychodrama every quarter-century or so, in which a woman is forced to reveal her worst experiences to the world as a civic duty and, in exchange, is humiliated and dismissed? Maybe time is a flat circle; maybe we need to not have people in government who are roughly 10 million years old and would prefer a country where women shut up and stayed home if they don’t want to be harassed in the workplace or assaulted as teenagers.
Chuck Grassley has been a politician almost longer than my mother has been alive, and he legislates as though it’s still 1959. That’s not acceptable. We deserve better representatives than these knickknacks masquerading as antiques, enacting harmful policies while knowing that they won’t have to live with the consequences.