Almost 30 years ago this month, on Oct. 14, 1988, The Accused debuted in theaters. The movie starred Kelly McGillis (who was a big star after Top Gun) as an ambitious prosecutor named Kathryn Murphy and Jodie Foster as Sarah Tobias, a working-class girl who is the victim of a horrible sex crime.
Tobias went out drinking at a local Washington, D.C., bar to blow off steam after a fight with her boyfriend. Soon, however, a night of flirting and dancing turns into a nightmare, when the men she’s dancing with won’t take no for an answer. They get more aggressive and finally, three of them force her down on a pinball machine and brutally rape her, one after the other. What’s worse, as Sarah struggles and screams for help, a crowd of men gathers around to laugh and cheer and high five as the gang rape occurs. The scene is only about two minutes long, but it’s horrific, from the helplessness on Foster’s face to the callousness of the men cheering to the realization that the movie is based on a real event.
Yet, The Accused isn’t really a movie about rape, it’s about consequences; about who pays for crimes and who doesn’t, who we hold accountable for bad behavior, and most importantly, what should happen to the man standing next to the man who’s doing wrong. Politically, America is playing out a modern-day version of The Accused, with Brett Kavanaugh at the bar, Dr. Christine Blasey Ford on the pinball machine and way too many men cheering from the sidelines, starting with Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp.
Political analysts and journalists have been trying to figure out how the Kavanaugh fight will affect Senate races in the midterm elections. Red-state Democrats are supposedly conflicted—do you vote yes and appease the right-wing base of your state?—or vote no, maintain your moral integrity and possibly lose your job? The hearings have galvanized Republican, Democratic and Independent voters in national polls. What’s less clear is whether the Kavanaugh fight has any real impact on the millions of voters and hundreds of candidates who have nothing to do with the Supreme Court, Kavanaugh or the Senate.
House members don’t vote for SCOTUS nominees, neither do state attorney generals or governors, and most smart politicians avoid taking a stand on polarizing issues that don’t directly affect the electorate. Why take a stand on fracking if you’re running for office in Florida? Who needs a strong take on the Muslim ban if you’re running for mayor of Billings, Mont.? No one cares where you stand in the beef between Nicki Minaj and Cardi B when you’re running for school board. You’d have to be crazy to take a position on a hugely divisive issue if you’re not directly involved, right?
Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp just told Brett Kavanaugh, “Hold my beer.” (Which makes sense, because I’ve heard Kavanaugh likes beer.)
A month ago, Kemp wrote a letter (pdf) of endorsement for Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The letter is mostly boilerplate praise for what a great judge Kavanaugh is. It’s the kind of thing you write to suck up to Donald Trump if you’re looking to get a cabinet position sometime down the road. However, once you get to the end of the letter, there’s a record-scratch moment.
Additionally, Judge Kavanaugh exhibits all of the personal qualities that we must demand from our Supreme Court justices. He prioritizes his faith and family, raising two school-aged children with his wife, Ashley, and stands as a pillar in his community. In all circumstances, he exudes civility and respect for others. He is a man of unquestionable integrity and values.
I’ll cut Kemp a little slack here; when he wrote this letter maybe he didn’t know that several accusers would come forward to reveal that ’80s Brett Kavanaugh was more Porky’s than Sixteen Candles. However, it’s hard to ignore several women and over 20 witnesses who have come forward corroborating statements about Kavanaugh’s excessive drinking and sexual aggression in the last two weeks. At this point, Kemp’s endorsement letter is uncomfortably hanging out there like a “Free R. Kelly” banner in the quad at Spelman College.
There’s no shame in retracting an endorsement once more evidence comes out. Jill Scott and Whoopi Goldberg got off the Cosby train faster than you can buy NBC with your Bitcoin money. Even Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pulled back his endorsement of Roy Moore once he heard the man used to allegedly hunt for dates at child-custody hearings. It’s one thing to die on the Kavanaugh hill if you’re a senator and have to make a vote; it’s something entirely different to stand by him when it has no bearing on your job. At that point, you’re just co-signing his behavior and everyone who supports him.
This is particularly important for Brian Kemp, who is running to be the historic 82nd straight white guy elected governor of Georgia. With only four weeks before Election Day, he’s tied in the polls with Democrat Stacey Abrams who is running to be the first black woman to be elected governor in U.S. history, so clearly, there is a lot invested in this race. Women’s groups in Georgia, not to mention dozens of elected officials have asked Kemp to renounce his endorsement of Kavanaugh. Kemp has said nothing and done nothing. Former friends, former Supreme Court justices, national churches and lawyers have come forward to say Kavanaugh is not fit to be on the Supreme Court; Kavanaugh’s own wife looked like she didn’t believe a word coming out of his mouth during the hearing. Yet Brian Kemp is still out there, cheering Kavanaugh on.
Maybe voters aren’t surprised. Kemp doesn’t have the best record on women’s issues. He voted against funding for a Rape Crisis center in Dekalb County, rails against pre-natal care at Planned Parenthood and rejects Medicaid expansion, which helps poor and single mothers. This is who he is. The question is what are Georgia voters willing to do about a man who stands by a man like Brett Kavanaugh?
In The Accused, the Kathryn Murphy character listens to her bosses and cuts an easy plea deal with the three rapists. The men plead to lesser charges that don’t even acknowledge the rape and get minimal jail time. Tobias, in a scene that all but secured an Oscar for Foster, confronts Murphy for selling out justice for political expediency.
Murphy, wracked by guilt, admits to herself that the other men in the bar, the ones who cheered on the rape, the ones who justified the rape, the ones who supported the rapists, were just as guilty as the men who pressed Sarah Tobias up against that pinball machine. With the help of a witness, Murphy prosecutes the men at the bar who cheered on the gang rape. And wins. She can’t do anything about the three who got off easy, but she made sure no one else involved avoided facing consequences.
It’s too late for Georgia voters to do anything if Georgia Sens. John Isakson and David Perdue cast a likely “yes” votes in favor of Brett Kavanaugh—neither man is up for election this year. However, Georgia voters can do something about Brian Kemp, who is standing in the proverbial bar, cheering on Brett Kavanaugh as he degrades Dr. Christine Blasey Ford all over again. The only question is what kind of witnesses Georgia voters want to be.