Debate was appalling; Will Barrett hearings be worse?

Did you find that debate as painful to watch as I did?

President Trump was beyond rude with his constant interruptions. While his target was Joe Biden, he deprived all of us of the opportunity to hear a clear, decisive exchange on the two candidates’ very different records, philosophies, and policy ideas.

In my view, Trump did himself no favors. He seemed to have some strong points to make, but by constantly intruding, he ended up struggling to be heard over Biden, and thereby stepped on many of his own lines.

Former Vice President Biden, for his part, resorted to childish name-calling, ranging from the petulant—calling Trump a “fool” and a “clown”—to the vicious: “liar” and “racist.” And he topped it off by telling the President to “shut up, man.” 

All in all, it was an appalling demonstration of the very breakdown in civil discourse that we’ve been lamenting on this blog site.

Which brings us to the coming battle over Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Because if the past is prologue, we are in for a nastiness that will make the other night’s debate seem like an afternoon tea. And in this context, sad to say, the viciousness has been all on one side.

I can think of not one instance in recent years where Republican senators engaged in protracted personal attacks against a Democratic president’s nominee. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, Elena Kagan—all with well-known liberal credentials when they were nominated—sailed through with minimal Republican opposition, and relatively mild questioning by GOP senators.

Contrast that with how Democratic senators have repeatedly dragged Republican nominees through the mud, beginning with the disgraceful character assassination against Judge Robert Bork in 1987. Their preferred line of attack in the years since—smearing male Republican nominees with long ago, unreported, unsubstantiated allegations of sexual misbehavior toward women—will not be available to them now as they grill a female nominee.

Perhaps they will resort—as they did when Barrett was nominated for the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 2017—to attacking her Catholic faith. They might think twice about that, however, given how soundly Sen. Dianne Feinstein was rebuked for it then—not only by Catholics, but by many principled people of varying faiths.

Perhaps instead they will disparage her family life. This is already happening in the blogosphere—with absurd characterizations of her and her husband’s loving adoption of two Haitian children as “racist.” Doubtless, some who favor abortion to reduce the numbers of disabled children—another manifestation of how the abortion mentality targets the victims, rather than the causes of human suffering—will fault Barrett for bringing a Down Syndrome child into the world.

And then there is the ridiculous effort to portray this very accomplished professional woman as a “Handmaid’s Tale” type of wife, totally subservient to her husband in all things, in line with Margaret Atwood’s fairy tale novel that’s treated like scriptural truth by radical feminists.

In fact, Amy Coney Barrett is the very model of what a true feminist would admire—balancing an extraordinarily successful legal career with a strong marriage and a commitment to motherhood. But that is not admired in radical feminist circles where—in addition to perceiving Barrett as being on the “wrong” side of issues like abortion—motherhood and marriage are seen as impediments to, rather than components of, a woman’s fulfillment.

Hopefully, Senate Democrats will see the folly of employing such lines of attack. Even Joe Biden has acknowledged that he is “not opposed to the justice (sic), she seems like a fine person.” They should stick to relevant questions for Judge Barrett about her judicial philosophy; and it is certainly legitimate for them to try to make the case, as Biden did, that Justice Ginsburg’s seat should not be filled until after the election.

But they should, for once, avoid bringing the politics of personal destruction into the confirmation process. It demeans them, it demeans the Senate, and it only further erodes any semblance of the civil discourse that we so desperately need right now.

Published by Rick Hinshaw

I have spent the last three decades in primarily Catholic communications work: as a reporter, news editor, columnist, and for eight years editor of The Long Island Catholic; several years as co-host and co-producer of The Catholic Forum program on the diocesan Telecare channel; two stints as Director of Communications for the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights; and a year as Associate Director for Communications at the New York State Catholic Conference. I also served for three years as Public Information Officer for the late Nassau County District Attorney Denis Dillon, a staunchly Catholic and active pro-life leader. Over that more than 30-year career, I have gained an ever deeper understanding of and appreciation for the moral and social teachings of our Church. In my various roles I have lent my voice to articulating those teachings and their applicability to the critical issues of our time. That is what I intend to do with this blog. Moreover, at a time when our political and social disagreements seem to have degenerated into constant vitriol, vilification, verbal abuse and intolerance of those who hold differing opinions, I hope that this blog can contribute, in some small way, to a restoration of respectful debate and discussion, where we can defend our beliefs forcefully without demonizing any who disagree with us. As a Catholic commentator, that is what I have always striven to do--remembering that even as we are called to stand firmly in defense of our Church, her teachings, and our right to be heard in the public square, we are also called always to be the face of Christ to the world--most especially to those with whom we disagree.

6 thoughts on “Debate was appalling; Will Barrett hearings be worse?

  1. I agree with all you said about the debate Rick. One thing I would add is that I think the debate format was the cause of the entire debate failure. It seems inconceivable to me to not expect chaos during the 5 minute “open” segments. That chaos then spilled over into the 2 minute closed segments where the candidates were supposed to be uninterrupted. Seems to me the obvious solution is to have all segments designated as uninterruptible.


  2. The history you recount on Supreme Court confirmations is incomplete and misleading, especially the characterization of Bork being rejected because of “character assassination” by Democrats. Robert Bork was rejected by the Senate in a vote of 58-42 in 1987, with 6 Republicans crossing the aisle to join 52 Democrats in voting against Bork. Senator John Warner of Virginia, a Republican, said at the time ”I searched the record. I looked at this distinguished jurist, and I cannot find in him the record of compassion, of sensitivity and understanding of the pleas of the people to enable him to sit on the highest Court of the land.” The contentiousness of the Bork process was because of Bork, not because Democratic senators had decided to always attack Republican nominees. Less than 5 months later, Anthony Kennedy, a Reagan nominee, was confirmed in a 97-0 vote. In 1990, David Souter was nominated by President Bush and confirmed 90-9.

    You refer to the confirmations of four justices nominated by Democratic presidents as “recent” but Elena Kagan was the most recent in 2010 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg was in 1993. You failed to mention the confirmation hearings of Merrick Garland in 2016 — because of course they never happened! This may not have been character assassination, but to not give a highly qualified nominee a hearing and a vote was the ultimate affront to civil discourse.


  3. Again, Bernie, please respond to what I write, not what you misread. I never wrote that Bork was defeated because of the character assassinations of the Democrats. I simply deplored that they had resorted to such a tactic, and then did so again and again with future Republican nominees. And I did not write that Republicans have never rejected a Democratic president’s nominee (as they did with Garland), but that they had not resorted to character assassination in doing so. I was not addressing the results, I was deploring the scorched earth tactics that have been solely employed by Democrats in opposing Republican nominees. Yes, the Merrick Garland nomination and now the GOP’s effort to confirm Barrett much closer to an election give the Democrats a legitimate issue. But if we are honest, I think on both sides we would concede that if the roles were reversed–if Hillary Clinton were now president, had a Democratic majority Senate, and were facing a tough re-election, the Democrats would now be pushing for a swift confirmation of Hillary’s nominee–and the Republicans would be protesting that it is too close to an election. Those are political tactics. They are not character assassination.


    1. Rick – what is more scorched earth than denying a well qualified candidate for the Supreme Court a hearing? Who is packing the Supreme Court?!? Mitch McConnell has no moral compass, and you are enabling him for your own reasons. Please don’t talk about being honest and role reversal. You and Mitch McConnell are willing to overlook Donald Trump’s overwhelming misdeeds for your own purposes, and that is shameful.


  4. And another point, if Hillary Clinton were President, she would not be facing a tough re-election in this pandemic, because she would have listened to scientists and rallied the country to wear masks, social distance, etc., instead of being a super-spreader and putting his own family at risk – shameful


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