Teenage Dating Habits

by Sherry F. Colb

If I were to try to identify all of the offensive, outlandish, and horrifying things that happened during the confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, I would be writing for several hours. I could focus on the overt racism of assuming that Judge Jackson, according to Senator Blackburn, thinks that judges must rely on critical race theory (CRT) in making judicial decisions. Why would anyone imagine that Judge Jackson believes such a thing? The answer is a mix of out-of-context quotations and the fact that she is Black, and some of the senators were ready to presume that all Black people who aren't attempting a coup must be disciples of Ibram X. Kendi.

Likely for the same benighted reason, Senator Cruz asked Judge Jackson whether she believed in racist babies. It turns out that Kendi, a fellow Black person, wrote a book called "Antiracist Baby," so Judge Jackson must believe in racist babies. No one admitted, of course, that they were acting like good old fashioned racists, but no one had to. I stayed away from listening to much of the hearings because I found the behavior of Republican Senators intolerably offensive and disgusting. For similar reasons, I avoid watching reality shows in which the objective is for the "star" to consume as much vile food as possible.

It was especially ironic for the Republicans to behave like a-holes because they started out promising Judge Jackson that they would not engage in the supposedly harassing conduct that they attributed to the Democrats in questioning Brett Kavanaugh, the man who was confirmed by the Republicans (by the closest margin ever at the time) despite the powerful and credible testimony of his alleged victim, Christine Blasey Ford and the totally not-at-all-credible testimony of Kavanaugh. Kavanaugh's unhinged behavior during the hearing persuaded Justice Stevens to say that Kavanaugh had disqualified himself simply by his conduct during the hearing. None of the questions that Democrats posed for Kavanaugh even approached the nastiness, ugliness, and bigotry that characterized much of Judge Jackson's hearing. Yet Judge Jackson remained calm, dignified, impressively erudite, and respectful, a marked contrast to Kavanaugh's histrionics and delusional rage. If a woman, let alone a Black woman, ever acted like Kavanaugh did during his hearing, she would lose whatever position she was hoping to gain, and she might even find herself civilly confined as mentally disordered and dangerous.

So what exactly did Republicans promise Judge Jackson that they would not do? This is where I want to focus because the answer is so revealing. Senator Ted Cruz said the following to Judge Jackson: “No one is going to inquire into your teenage dating habits,” he said. “No one is going to ask you with mock severity, ‘Do you like beer?'” 

Where to begin? First, Senator Cruz was plainly drawing a distinction between what the big bad Democrats did to Kavanaugh and what he and his fellow Republicans would be doing to Judge Jackson. The first distinction was that no one would be asking her about her "teenage dating habits." You might be forgiven for wondering when anyone questioned Kavanaugh about his teenage dating habits. But then you would recall Dr. Ford's brave and powerful testimony during the hearing about Kavanaugh's attempt to rape her when they were both at a party. Kavanaugh and Ford were not dating, and to my knowledge, never dated. "Dating" generally implies consent. Ford said that the two knew each other, which is perhaps in CruzWorld, enough to authorize a sexual assault.

Senator Cruz was thus characterizing the inquiry into Kavanaugh's attempted rape of Ford as "teenage dating habits." Let us unpack that phrase. The reference to "teenage" was clearly meant to imply that Kavanaugh was a child at the time of his reprehensible (alleged) behavior. But he was not a child. He was 17 years old, and his (alleged) victim was 15. So the "teenage" word, while literally accurate, was highly misleading. Senator Cruz used it because he is perhaps less interested in the truth than in scoring points with "the base." And apparently, his base believes that trying to rape a girl that you know when you are 17 and she is 15 is the sort of "boys will be boys" tomfoolery that no one should be taking seriously in deciding whether to put someone on the U.S. Supreme Court. He might as well have said to her: "No one is going to inquire into your favorite soup."

Next consider the words "dating habits." Kavanaugh never "dated" Ford. Therefore, it follows that the only way to characterize what Kavanaugh (allegedly) did to Ford as a "dating habit" is if Senator Cruz believes that attempted rape is itself a dating habit, much like taking a shower or wearing perfume or buying flowers. Perhaps he had in mind marriage by capture, in which the act of rape in some cultures is what creates the marital relationship between the rapist and his victim. The one thing that Senator Cruz got right was the use of the word "habit." As he and anyone paying attention knows, Kavanaugh's "teenage dating" was not a one-time thing. Several other women and one man offered credible statements about Kavanaugh's shoving his penis into inebriated women's faces as a college student.

Senator Cruz simply fabricated the question about whether Kavanaugh liked beer. No one asked him about his liking beer, with mock severity or otherwise. Perhaps Senator Cruz was confused because Kavanaugh insisted on declaring how much he liked and continues to like beer in response to Senator Klobuchar's questions about whether Kavanaugh was ever so drunk that he could not recall what happened. It seemed likely that he had experienced being blackout drunk and therefore that he might have tried to rape his acquaintance without having any recollection of violent criminal conduct. No one cared whether he liked beer or not.

What disturbs me most about the question about teenage dating habits is that Senator Cruz could not have more clearly communicated how trivial he considered the charges against Kavanaugh than by referring to the consideration of Dr. Ford's accusation as a bunch of nonsense unworthy of judicial confirmation hearings. I am sad for the senator's daughters. Most men who become fathers of girls come to regard sexual assault as a serious matter, but not Ted Cruz. To him, it's just a dating habit.

The Kavanaugh hearings sullied our nation but not because the Senate was willing to hear from a woman who was extremely credible, just as Anita Hill was extremely credible three decades ago. The hearings sullied the nation because they ended in the confirmation of a person who probably tried to rape a girl. The hearings were sullied by the temper tantrum that Kavanaugh threw at the very idea that people would dare to get in the way of his ascent when he had had such an exemplary career. The hearings were sullied because Republicans as a group seem to care more about winning and "owning the libs" than they do about the most basic decency that one person owes to another, the decency that prevents us from attempting to sexually assault our acquaintances, even as teenagers.