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The Madame Defarge of New York

eye on the news

The Madame Defarge of New York

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has no regard for truth. September 24, 2018
Politics and law

The national circus around the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has shined a spotlight on Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior senator from New York. Gillibrand, currently running for reelection, has raised eyebrows around the country with her remarks about the accusations of sexual assault against Kavanaugh. “I believe Dr. Blasey Ford,” she announced during a press conference last week, “because she’s telling the truth.” Coming from a lawyer and legislator, this tautological statement was underwhelming to anyone looking for facts, but entirely compelling to the senator’s intended audience of fellow “believers.”

Gillibrand has made a career of rhetorical opportunism, and she’s willing to jettison allies, commitments, and the truth in the service of her own advancement. Elected to the House in 2006, Gillibrand represented a conservative upstate district running along New York State’s eastern border, and including rural Delaware County. Gillibrand was a Blue Dog Democrat, holding conservative views on guns and immigration. She received an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, opposed amnesty for illegal aliens, and criticized then-governor Eliot Spitzer for proposing to issue drivers’ licenses to illegal immigrants.

Gillibrand’s 2009 appointment to the senate seat vacated by Hillary Clinton, who became Secretary of State, was widely believed to have been orchestrated by her mentor Al D’Amato, the former senator and powerful New York lobbyist, who stood with Gillibrand and then-Governor David Paterson at the podium when her selection was announced. Downstate liberals were disappointed that a two-term upstate centrist was given the plum position, but, facing statewide elections in 2010 and 2012, Gillibrand quickly refashioned herself as a progressive. Within a year of her becoming a senator, the NRA had downgraded Gillibrand to an “F,” and her positions on other issues had shifted far left as well.

Asked earlier this year by 60 Minutes why she had embraced the “Dreamer” cause and now opposed deportation, reversing her previous stance, Gillibrand explained that it was because she “came from a district that was 98 percent white.” She went on: “We have immigrants, but not a lot of immigrants. . . . And I just didn’t take the time to understand why these issues mattered because it wasn’t right in front of me. And that was my fault. It was something that I’m embarrassed about and I’m ashamed of.” Her willingness to slough off the people who had nourished her early political career as something to be “embarrassed about” and “ashamed of” speaks volumes about Gillbrand’s opportunism.

But being anti-gun and pro-immigrant isn’t enough to differentiate a junior senator in the Democratic Party. Gillibrand became an early supporter of the campaign to root out sexual harassers and abusers from public life, even if the evidence against them was thin. In 2015, Gillibrand invited Emma Sulkowicz to be her guest at the State of the Union. Sulkowicz was a Columbia University student who gained fame when, in protest against the school’s failure to expel her alleged rapist, she lugged her mattress with her everywhere she went on campus. Gillibrand amplified Sulkowicz’s claims and helped raise them to national awareness; ultimately, the university dismissed the charges as unfounded, and reached a settlement with the alleged rapist, who sued for lack of due process.

The flowering of the #MeToo movement gave Gillibrand a wide new platform. When a photo emerged of fellow senator Al Franken clownishly pretending to grope a sleeping woman, Gillibrand was the first Democrat to demand that he resign. She followed this gesture by telling the New York Times that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency after the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. These maneuvers brought her some notoriety, though they have cost her in regard to her already-weak legislative capital; in 11 years of serving in Congress, Gillibrand has sponsored just one bill that became law—the naming of a post office in Washington Heights after deceased councilman Stanley Michels.

After throwing her fellow senator, a former president, her home congressional district, and her previously stated beliefs under the bus, Senator Gillibrand has now come after due process and the rule of law. Speaking about the manifest guilt of Brett Kavanaugh, Gillibrand said that Christine Blasey Ford’s claims are the “hallmarks of truth . . . the hallmarks of someone who wants to be believed because she fears that if this person is confirmed he will do terrible things for American women. . . . I believe her because she is telling the truth.”

“Someone who is lying does not ask the FBI to investigate their claims,” she continued. “Who is not asking the FBI to investigate these claims? The White House. Judge Kavanaugh has not asked to have the FBI review these claims. Is that the reaction of an innocent person? It is not.” According to Gillibrand’s startling view of criminal procedure and jurisprudence, remaining silent and awaiting the opportunity to confront the charges against you indicates guilt, because the innocent person has nothing to hide. Gillibrand’s version of justice is closer to a medieval inquest or trial by ordeal than it is to common law. Her methods are more becoming of Madame Defarge than a member of the Senate.

Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images

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