The Standard of Proof: Observations of a Rational, Intellectually Honest Conservative

burden of proof

Ross Douthat is a conservative, and I often disagree with the assumptions that underpin his thinking. Nevertheless, in my estimation he is often worth reading. Two reasons.

First, he thinks and writes clearly, and he is intellectually honest.

Advocacy comes in three flavors. First, there is the kind of advocate who just makes shit up. That is the sort of person who is forever importuning you to disbelieve your lying eyes. Second, there is the kind of advocate who engages with reality in some degree, but who, by omission or commission, misstates the position she is opposing, distorts the facts, and ignores evidence and arguments contrary to her opinion. Third, there is the intellectually honest advocate: the one who tries to understand and correctly state his adversary’s positions, who accepts known facts, and states clearly, without misleading rhetorical tricks, the reasons for his conclusions. That is Ross Douthat. And that is also Aardvark’s aim.

So that’s one reason to spend a little time with Ross. The other reason is that if you happen to find yourself in a conversation with a reality challenged wingnut or an intellectually dishonest advocate, Douthat may provide some ammunition to throw back in their direction.

If you find this appealing, please read today’s op-ed, titled The Burden of Proof for Kavanaugh. I’ll highlight three points.

(1) What Burden of Proof Should a Fair Minded Conservative Apply?

Douthat writes,

Ben Wittes put it well for The Atlantic: “He needs to prove a negative about events long ago with sufficient persuasiveness that a reasonable person will regard his service as untainted by the allegations against him, and he needs to do so using only arguments that don’t themselves taint him.”

Read the first part of the piece to see how he gets there.

(2) How Might Kavanaugh Conceivably Meet this Standard of Proof?

Douthat answers, “if Kavanaugh is actually innocent, there are really only two alternatives: Either Ford is a brazen liar, or some scenario of clouded or mistaken memory must be true.”

(3) Kavanaugh Needs to Provide an Alternative Explanation

Those of us, of a certain age, will remember how Perry Mason always got someone other than the defendant to admit guilt. Douthat doesn’t mention Perry Mason, but thinks his approach is the one Kavanaugh must follow if his nomination is not to be tainted:

If his accuser testifies credibly and all he has to offer are vehement denials, followed by a rushed Republican attempt at confirmation, then he may be innocent but his nomination will deserve to fail. But an obligation not to elevate a clouded nominee must coexist with an obligation to hear out any serious alternative explanation of the facts.

… But if Kavanaugh has one, or if some other silent person has one, the obligation to offer it remains.

Aardvark’s Concluding Observation

Vely intelesting. Personally, I think the chance of Kavanaugh’s coming up with a credible alternative explanation by Thursday are about as good as the chances that the flood waters in North Carolina will be free of pig shit.

But time will tell.