Jonah Goldberg: Theater of the absurd has taken over Senate
Supreme Court confirmation hearings have mostly been theater for a long time. The dismaying thing about the latest episode — the Brett Kavanaugh show — is that it became the theater of the absurd.
In the classic absurdist dramas of the 1950s and 1960s, Brittanica.com explains, European playwrights “did away with most of the logical structures of traditional theatre. There is little dramatic action as conventionally understood; however frantically the characters perform, their busyness serves to underscore the fact that nothing happens to change their existence.”
That’s a pretty good description of the sound and fury signifying nothing on display this week from Democrats and protestors alike.
The central complaint of the Democrats is that they haven’t been given access to records from Kavanaugh’s time working in the Bush administration. They demand their release by the current White House, or the Senate Judiciary Committee, or Kavanaugh, or, perhaps by this writing, Aslan the Lion deity of Narnia.
Explaining the ginned-up controversy would be a waste of time, because the point of these demands merely is to put on an absurdist drama in which the finale is never in doubt.
Judge Brett Kavanaugh, an indisputably qualified nominee, even according to the typically liberal American Bar Association, will be confirmed no matter what the Democrats do and no matter how many indecipherable yawps get shouted by the hysterics in the hearing room.
The most obvious proof that this is all theater, isn’t “The Handmaid’s Tale” cosplayers outside the hearing rooms, it’s the senators most passionately shouting that they require more information despite already declaring they won’t vote for Kavanaugh, no matter what that information reveals.
One of the lead protagonists of this drama, New Jersey Sen. Corey Booker, exclaimed Thursday morning that “This is the closest I’ll ever get in my life to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” and threatened to divulge confidential documents to the public, even if it meant risking losing his job.
“I am going to release the e-mail about racial profiling and I understand that the penalty comes with potential ousting from the Senate,” Booker declared.
Again, because nothing actually matters when the goal is to create dramatic sound bites for Twitter and TV and your 2020 presidential campaign videos, he later insisted that he wasn’t breaking the rules by releasing confidential documents.
He was right the first time: It is against the rules to release confidential documents.
Booker was hardly alone in the forced buffoonery. More than a dozen of his fellow Democrats joined in the rebellion against Senate rules, in effect shouting “I am Spartacus” too, and with mawkish bravery dared the Senate to expel them.
But all this sturm und drang on the public stage was pointless.
Indeed, the documents he ended up releasing had already been cleared for public viewing — and Booker reportedly knew that beforehand, but pretended otherwise. Gotta stay in character.
Oh, and the ominous email “about racial profiling” Booker released? It showed that Kavanaugh was opposed to racial profiling.
In Yiddish humor, which has its own absurdist bent, a schlemiel is a clumsy person who often spills his soup and a schlimazel is the sort of chronically unlucky person the soup lands on. Booker achieved a double play: He spilled the soup on himself.
Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse, in one of the best opening statements of any hearing I’ve ever heard, cut through it all.
“Since your nomination in July,” Sasse said, “you’ve been accused of hating women, hating children, hating clean air, wanting dirty water. You’ve been declared an existential threat to our nation. Alumni of Yale Law School, incensed that faculty members at your alma mater praised your selection, wrote a public letter to the school saying quote, ‘People will die if Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed.”
“This drivel is patently absurd,” he continued, “and I worry that we’re going to hear more of it over the next few days. But the good news is, it is absurd and the American people don’t believe any of it.”
Sasse eloquently expanded on a point I’ve been banging my spoon on my highchair about for a while now: The legislative branch is becoming a parliament of pundits, in which both parties teem with people desperate to emote, preen and shriek for voters and donors who follow politics like it’s a form of entertainment, and, in this case, a theater of the absurd.
Jonah Goldberg is an editor-at-large of National Review Online and a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.