Joe Biden, with Edward Kennedy, makes a point during Clarence Thomas confirmation hearing in 1991. Photograph: Greg Gibson/AP
Lichtman said: The parallels to today are worse than eerie; theyre quite frightening. Some things have changed but in some ways Dr Fords treatment by the Republicans on the judiciary committee is even worse.
The wider backlash against Ford also invited comparisons. She has received death threats and been forced to relocate. The presidents son, Donald Trump Jr,
issued a mocking tweet that likened her allegation of sexual assault to a childhood crush. The Senate judiciary committee chairman Chuck Grassley, who is 85, said dismissively: Id hate to ask, have somebody ask me what I did 35 years ago. In South Carolina, the Republican congressman Ralph Norman joked: Did yall hear this latest late-breaking news from the Kavanaugh hearings? [Supreme court justice] Ruth Bader Ginsburg came out that she was groped by Abraham Lincoln.
Jocelyn Frye, an African American lawyer and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress think tank in Washington, said: Twenty-seven years later, we have the same phenomenon rearing its head again. The people who have an interest in protecting the status quo and keeping things as they are are attacking the integrity of Dr Ford. It was hard to watch 27 years ago and its agonising to watch now. To see many of the lessons that we should have learned in 1991 being ignored is infuriating.
And yet this is a distinct cultural moment. From Harvey Weinstein to Senator Al Franken, the #MeToo movement has toppled powerful men in politics, media, Hollywood and other domains.
Lichtman said: The #MeToo movement is an incredible difference. No man today is too big to be held accountable for sexual assault, no matter how rich, no matter how powerful. Dr Ford coming forward is a direct result of #MeToo because she felt it was a civic duty.
Some commentators, however, argue that #MeToo is in danger of overreach.
Kay Hymowitz, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative thinktank in New York, acknowledged that Fords allegation is grave and should be taken seriously.
She added: A drunken groping is how I would put it. I dont see that as something that should destroy a persons future for good. To go through his whole life with this accusation hanging over him strikes me as unfair.
It doesnt reflect well on the #MeToo movement. There was a danger in the #MeToo movement of an accusation being merely enough to condemn somebody. Believe all women: a women says something and it has to be true. But sometimes women misremember as men do, and sometimes women lie as men do.
Lines you dont cross
There has been sharp disagreement over how decades-old allegations involving teenagers and alcohol should be handled. Some hold that, if proven, the allegation against Kavanaugh would be disqualifying for a position as important as the supreme court, where his role would including making decisions that directly affect womens control over their own bodies.
Activists chant slogans during a protest outside the office of the Senate judiciary committee chairman Chuck Grassley. Photograph: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Chloe Safier, a gender and womens rights consultant, said: In the wake of #MeToo, women who report sexual assault are finally being heard and believed yet we are still making excuses for mens behaviour. There are some who say they believe Christine Blasey Ford, but that Kavanaugh cant be held accountable for his actions because he was drunk or he was young. But legally and ethically, regardless of age or sobriety, there are lines you dont cross.
She noted recent discourse over men shamed by the first wave of #MeToo already plotting their comebacks. The
comedian Louis CK returned to a comedy club last month without offering an apology, the broadcaster Garrison Keillor has scheduled two shows for November (both sold out) and the Canadian broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi wrote a grievance-filled essay in the prestigious New York Review of Books, sparking an uproar that led to the departure of the publications editor Ian Buruma. Dismissing Kavanaughs alleged behaviour would be an extension of the impunity often granted to men who sexually assault women, Safier added. Weve come too far for that.
There is another, resounding echo of the Thomas drama. Hill was publicly vilified but her courageous testimony was credited with helping spur the year of the woman: in 1992, 28 women were elected to the House of Representatives and four to the Senate, more than doubling the total. In the 2018 midterm elections,
a record 257 women are running for the House and Senate. A Politico /Morning Consult poll found that Democratic women are more motivated to vote than any other demographic group.
Slowly but surely, Washington is catching up with society at large. In 1991 there were only two women in the 100-member Senate; now there are 23. One is Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii. I just want to say to the men in this country: just shut up and step up,
she told a press conference this week. Do the right thing, for a change.