The Brett Kavanaugh who showed up at the Senate on Thursday afternoon was not the Brett Kavanaugh who came to Capitol Hill for the first four days of his Supreme Court confirmation hearings. Then, he was cautious and even-keeled, coyly demurring when asked for his opinion on issues that might reveal his political leanings. On Thursday, he came out shouting—flushed and indignant about the sexual assault accusations that have been lodged against him by Christine Blasey Ford and two other women. He looked like nothing more than a child who’d been called in front of a school disciplinary board for misbehavior, the perfect picture of a privileged, physically imposing teen.
It was more than a little surreal to see the composed federal judge, a 53-year-old man who’s foregrounded his skills as a carpool driver and children’s basketball coach, transform into a petulant prep school jock. His arms crossed, eyes rolling, lips pursed into a smirk, Kavanaugh dropped his veneer of decorum to talk back to the Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee—every one of whom he interrupted—as if they were meting out a particularly harsh grounding.
One of Kavanaugh’s college roommates, James Roche, has described the judge as someone who’d get “aggressive and belligerent” when he drank, which, Roche said, happened often. Thursday’s performance gave us a glimpse of what an aggressive belligerent Kavanaugh looks like. He yelled over ranking member Dianne Feinstein about wanting to hold a hearing the day after Ford came forward with her allegations. When Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse asked him about the yearbook entries that appeared to illustrate heavy drinking, Kavanaugh interrupted and shot back, “Do you like beer? What do you like to drink? Senator, what do you like to drink?” Twice, Kavanaugh asked Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who spoke about her father’s struggle with alcoholism, if she’d ever blacked out from drinking, as a way to avoid answering the same question she posed to him. (He later apologized to Klobuchar for his behavior.)
Every argument Kavanaugh made about his high school behavior sounded like an argument that would come out of the mouth of a high-schooler. Son, what is the meaning of this line in your yearbook about a girl name Renate? That was “intended to show affection, and that she was one of us.” And the “Beach Week Ralph Club”? Just a “sensitive stomach” thing. Did you drink so much that you passed out? No, just “fell asleep.”
Throughout his testimony, Kavanaugh tried to prove his decency through elitist associations and self-exonerating invocations of privilege. He couldn’t have spent his nights drinking to excess and molesting young women, he said, because he was busy playing on the football team, spending time “at Tobin’s house workin’ out,” passing the weekends in an upper-crust beach community, and getting into Yale. At other times, he spoke a language specific to boisterous prankster bros, laughing about Roche moving their mutual roommate’s furniture out of their dorm room and asking Whitehouse if he’d ever played the drinking game quarters.
As the end of the hearing approached, with just two GOP senators left to question him, Kavanaugh turned solicitous. He was no longer snipping and shouting, but somberly nodding, giving polite answers of “yes, senator” as everyone made a show of agreeing on how bad sexual assault is and how unfair Democrats had been to Ford and Kavanaugh’s family. If you didn’t catch the first half of his testimony, you might think this was the full picture of a respectful, respectable guy who really likes beer but is incapable of grievous harm. Here, Kavanaugh behaved like a teenager who knows he’s nearing the end of a lecture from a parent or headmaster, humbling himself for the final few minutes because he realizes his pedigree will preclude any meaningful punishment.