After a group of students heard Senator Susan Collins (R—Maine) speak at St. Anselm College on September 21, the talk on the bus ride home was cautiously optimistic. We thought that Sen. Collins had been sincere in the interest she expressed about hearing Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against now Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. The senator had repeated time and again that listening to women with allegations of sexual assault was important. More than once she had emphasized that sexual assault was one of the most underreported crimes, and she had cited statistics.
We hoped that both Sen. Collins’ professed desire to reach across the aisle and her misgivings about a candidate plagued with a shady past would sway her to vote no. But now her words at St. Anselm ring hollow, and our optimism seems misplaced.
Senator Collins’ love of “civility and bipartisanship” (the theme of her talk that night) seems, in light of her vote, to be a cover for more sinister intentions. The desire to maintain civility has historically been a code for maintaining the status quo. Is that true of Sen. Collins’ desire? Her vision of politics is one that doesn’t accept protest or disruption and thus discourages radical progress. Complaining about the frenzy of political activity leading up to her momentous Kavanaugh decision, she has criticized protestors as bothersome and ineffective. “I don’t think protests really convey much,” she told us at St. Anslem. “I think it’s much more thoughtful to do an email, a conversation, a letter.”
What bothered us most was that while Sen. Collins purports to be an independent-minded politician who prefers bipartisan decision making—the Lugar Center and Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy have even named her the most bipartisan member of the Senate for the last five years—she eventually joined ranks with her Republican colleagues. This is a pattern. Collins votes with her party 87 percent of the time, only nine percent less than the average Republican, CNN reports. As one Huffington Post columnist wrote, “When a contentious issue arises, Collins will elaborately explain that she hasn’t made up her mind yet. She needs to give the issue careful study. And then, wondrously, after very careful and well-advertised study, she almost always votes with Mitch McConnell.” Collins’ ideals of bipartisan leadership appear largely hollow and totally inconsistent with her voting record.
After overcoming the excitement that Collins had responded to Sam Klein Roche’s question (see “When every vote counts,” page 1), we felt assured, by her, that if she found Dr. Ford’s sexual assault allegations “credible,” she would oppose Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation. In New Hampshire, Sen. Collins had common sense and some decency. But just before announcing her vote on October 5, she delivered a painfully lengthy speech on the Senate floor in which she called Dr. Ford’s testimony “credible”—and then voted to confirm Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. What hypocrisy.
In her Senate speech, Sen. Collins described Judge Kavanaugh’s judicial records as noble, contrasting them with Dr. Ford’s allegations. She reminded Americans that no one who had supposedly attended the high school party could recollect that night. Although no evidence can verify that Kavanaugh assaulted Ford, the allegations at least confirm he may have. Would a rational parent hire a babysitter who may have abused children? Would a rational government grant the highest office to someone who may have broken the law and sexually harassed women? Oh, wait—that already happened. And by voting to make Judge Kavanaugh a justice, Sen. Collins advocated for its happening again.
While we did expect Sen. Collins to vote with her party, her sweeping ideals of bipartisanship and cooperation seemed to leave some hope that she might acknowledge the seriousness of the allegations and make an exception. In New Hampshire, she spoke earnestly about her objective to, above all, uncover the truth and do what she feels is right. After a compelling, emotional testimony from Dr. Ford and a seemingly cursory FBI investigation, it was jarring for us to see Sen. Collins express essentially the same views on the Senate floor as she had two weeks earlier, with a voice that reeked of insincerity.
Sen. Collins’ actions make us worry that perhaps these ideals of bipartisanship, cooperation, and civility are unreachable standards in the world beyond conversation.
At the end of the event, the nine of us students were shepherded into a pressroom that was crowded with nearly a dozen large cameras, each manned by several journalists. The press formed a tight semicircle around the senator when she entered the room, and we sat in a section to her side, our view partially obstructed by microphones on long black poles. Halfway through the 15-minute follow-up conference, two members of our group raised their hands, but somewhere in the chaos of white camera flashes and journalists talking over each other, their questions went unnoticed and we realized, not for the first time, we were the youngest people in the room.