Thursday, June 24

Cui Bono?

This will be the shortest “Skeptic’s Collection” column I have written in my six years of writing for Beguine. There is a heuristic rule of thumb that I have never seen employed in comparing the credibility of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Brett Kavanaugh. This principle is, as I say, purely a heuristic rule of thumb. That is, it cannot, nor does it profess to, constitute a fundamental evidentiary principle. It proves nothing “beyond a reasonable doubt”. But it is a good hip-pocket question to ask in “he said / she said” situations. It is a simple, two-word Latin expression:

Cui bono?

Cui bono may be interpreted variously as “Whose value” or “Whose advantage” or “Whose gain”. In this context, “value,” “advantage,” and “gain” should be interpreted as tangible advantage in terms of money, power, or any other empirically measurable parameter, not anything as abstract as “civic pride” or “patriotic virtue”. For that reason, Cui bono is a corollary of “Follow the money”. So I propose asking Cui bono in assessing the credibility of the Ford / Kavanaugh testimony.

o Dr. Christine Blasey Ford

If we ask Cui bono? regarding Dr. Ford’s testimony, we have to take into account:


  • The chronic disruption of the lives of her and her family
  • The out-of-pocket expense she incurred in terms of hiring security
  • Playing de facto host to multitudes of reporters clustered around her home
  • The disruption of her professional life teaching at the University of Palo Alto
  • The psychological pain of reliving, and being re-traumatized by, relating the assault

The list goes on, but the relevant question to ask is What kind of personal, tangible advantage could compensate Dr. Ford and her family for the above experiences, all of which could be described as adding up to collective rape? Was she angling for a multi-million dollar book deal? Was she hoping for an opinion show on MSNBC a la Rachel Maddow? A degree of notoriety that could catapult her into elective office? Or what?

There is no evidence of any of this. Apart from Dr. Ford’s avowed reasons of moral integrity and civic duty, there is no conceivable upside – there is no “bono” – that could fairly compensate her for this loss of privacy and for the treatment she received from Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, who were evidently square-jawed determined to hide behind the skirts of Rachel Mitchell, their proxy questioner, the better to act out Profiles in Cowardice. Now, granted, there is such a thing as ideological zealotry. But review Dr. Ford's testimony and the circumstances surrounding it, and ask yourself of she comes across as a bloodshot-eyed fanatic. I can speak for no one but myself, but in my opinion, the answer is "Decidedly not". Dr. Ford certainly does not seem to be a two-legged lemming lusting after a cliff to jump over or a cross to climb upon, quite the contrary.

o Judge Brett Kavanaugh

The situation is radically otherwise here. In Kavanaugh’s case, there is an eminently tangible upside. True, Kavanaugh and his family suffered similarly at the hands of the public and the press:

  • Loss of privacy by journalistic intrusion (one of the prices public figures pay for our free press)
  • The disruption of Judge Kavanaugh’s professional life on the Federal judiciary
  • The exposure to public scrutiny of whatever personal details were recorded in his diaries
  • The stress on his wife and children of all the above
  • The psychological pain of having to continually defend himself against an act he says he did not commit

But radically unlike the case of Dr. Ford, there most assuredly is a tangible “bono” at stake for Judge Kavanaugh:  a lifetime appointment as one of the nine Justices who collectively constitute the third coordinate Branch of the Federal Government.

Dr. Ford had nothing to gain and everything to lose. For Judge Kavanaugh, quite the opposite was the case.

So you tell me:  Cui bono?

James R. Cowles

Image credits

Dr. Christina Blasey Ford ... Senate Judiciary Committee ... Public domain
Brett Kavanaugh ... US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ... Public domain
Senate Judiciary Committee ... US Senate Historical Office ... Public domain

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