Once again, white Republican men hoped a white woman would save them. Maybe Republicans will continue rallying behind Brett Kavanaugh and appoint him to the Supreme Court despite the credible accusations leveled against him, but the GOP’s gambit to use a woman to speak for the all-white male Republican panel during today’s massively important Senate hearing went all wrong.
It made them look like cowards. And it made Rachel Mitchell, an experienced sex-crimes prosecutor from Arizona, look like little more than a political pawn. That makes sense, given that the Republican Party didn’t much care about ensuring a woman would be in place to serve a prominent role during the Supreme Court nomination process—by never appointing a female Republican senator to the Judiciary Committee.
It’s a different outcome from what we saw two years ago when white women helped then-presidential candidate Donald Trump. In 2016, Trump was accused of sexual misconduct and assault by nearly two dozen women after he was caught on video bragging about sexually assaulting women, something he claimed he was entitled to do because of his celebrity status. They ultimately rescued his candidacy, allowed him to win the presidency and defeat the first woman, Hillary Clinton, to lead a major party ticket in the United States? White women voters, 53 percent of whom who chose Trump over Clinton on Election Day.
That’s why it should come as no surprise that the all-white male Republican caucus on the Senate Judiciary Committee chose a white woman to question Christine Blasey Ford, who has credibly accused Kavanaugh of sexual assault.
Blasey Ford, who accused Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh of trying to rape her while they were in high school, was masterful during Thursday’s hearing, so much so that even commentators on Fox News were declaring how credible she was and how much of a disaster the first half of the hearing went for Republicans.
The GOP’s last-minute decision to insert Mitchell into the proceedings to speak for the Republican men was the clearest illustration of so-called identity politics we’ve ever seen, the kind of politics conservative and libertarian intellectuals and pundits (and some liberal ones, too) have been decrying. And yet, when the Senate GOP blatantly used gender to protect its mostly white-male Senate caucus, none of them objected.
Mitchell, a prosecutor from Arizona who specializes in sex crimes, will question Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh on behalf of the all-white male GOP members of the Judiciary Committee. Mitchell is an award-winning prosecutor and maybe just as excellent as Sen. Chuck Grassley says she is. I don’t doubt her qualifications. She might be an exceptional attorney. But let’s not pretend that she was given this high-profile role during a historic Senate hearing because of her experience and background. She got the gig foremost because she is a woman.
Again, she may be the most qualified person the planet—but she would not have received this assignment if she were a man. That says more about the 11 Republican men on the committee than it says about her. It says that the Republican Party, which is about 90 percent white, cares about diversity only in extremely limited circumstances, and then only when diversity will protect the party from its dismal, decades-long track record on diversity.
Just think about this: A Republican woman has never—ever—served on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
At this point, it’s akin to beating a dead horse to point out the GOP’s hypocrisy on issues of diversity, or just about any of its other stated principles. The real problem is that all the pundits who have made a fortune over the past few years decrying identity politics—without ever fully defining precisely what they mean—have suddenly gone silent when the real thing is staring them in the face. When Democrats or college-admissions officers talk about the importance of having staffs and student bodies that “look like America,” conservative intellectuals are among the first to cry foul, as though it is simply a tactic to stack the deck against straight, white men.
They’ve spent years saying that neither gender nor race matters. If they really believed that, they would have been OK if Sen. Lindsey Graham, a lawyer, took the lead in questioning Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh. But they weren’t. They were said to be afraid of the bad optics of 11 old white dudes grilling a woman about her sex life and alleged sexual assault. Before this moment, they spent years telling us all that mattered was competence and credentials. In other words, they’ve spent all those years lying to us.
The truth is that experience and credentials and competence matter—but so does diversity. There are some things a qualified woman is better suited for than an equally qualified man. The same can be said of race and religion and a variety of other things. Diverse groups and companies perform better than nondiverse groups and companies.
From the Harvard Business Review:
Striving to increase workplace diversity is not an empty slogan—it is a good business decision. A 2015 McKinsey report on 366 public companies found that those in the top quartile for ethnic and racial diversity in management were 35% more likely to have financial returns above their industry mean, and those in the top quartile for gender diversity were 15% more likely to have returns above the industry mean.
Colleges can offer a more well-rounded educational experience when the study body and faculty are diverse. This truth is only controversial in the minds of those who want to ignore the complexity of humanity and excellence, and to protect their calcified privilege.
That’s why, in some regards, it made sense for a highly qualified woman to lead the charge on something as sensitive and multifaceted as trying to prove or disprove a sexual assault allegation that’s nearly 40 years old. That’s why it would be great if the Republican Party embraced that truth more frequently, and not only when they find it convenient to hide behind yet another white woman.