DALLAS—The most amazing thing to me about the Kavanaugh Mess was the thousands of hours spent on psychoanalyzing his high school years.
If anybody ever psychoanalyzed my high school years and hauled me before a Congressional committee to talk about it, they would end up asking questions like:
(1) Is it true that you and three other teenage reprobates, when you were 14 years old, paid a wino in downtown North Little Rock, Arkansas, to buy three bottles of Maker’s Mark at a sketchy liquor store, then secured the bottles under the front seat as you stealthily crept past vehicles operated by various law enforcement agencies in four Arkansas towns?
(2) Is it true that you repeatedly toilet-papered the entire front yard of Randy Tankersley?
(3) Is it true that, on a special Student Council trip to New Orleans, you bought Hurricanes from those open kiosks on the street and proceeded to get drunk in violation of local laws, state laws, and laws governing the operation of motor vehicles in Houma, Louisiana, where you also caroused until 3 a.m. in the homes of various parish officials who turned out to be white supremacists?
(4) Is it true that, during the trip to “Battle of the Bands” at Six Flags Over Texas in Arlington, you engaged in mutual groping with Cindy W., a flutist, in the back of the band bus?
(5) Is it true, Mr. Briggs, that you repeatedly cruised Boyle Park until three in the morning with two members of the trombone section and one baritone player, and that during these sojourns members of your party were known to tell crude jokes, plot the destruction of your high school, and consume massive quantities of cheap Mexican beer?
(6) Is it true that on a certain fall night, while cruising with the aforesaid trombonists, the second chair in the Marching Patriot Band tossed raw eggs out of the right rear passenger window and said eggs flew over the top of your car, a Dodge Charger, and landed squarely on the windshields of oncoming vehicles, endangering innocent people traveling on the highway to Conway?
(7) Is it true that when the aforementioned trombonist landed a direct hit on an official vehicle of the Little Rock Police Department, and said vehicle then turned on all its lights and reversed direction, chasing your own vehicle, you sped up rather than surrendering and confessing and then, taking advantage of hilly winding roads, found an opportunity to park at a cockeyed angle at the high school of Panky, Arkansas, at which time all passengers in your vehicle ducked below window level so that the outraged police officer would fly past the school and you could then reverse direction and avoid arrest?
(8) Is it also true, Mr. Briggs, that you attended X-rated movie theaters while underage, including movies imported from Sweden that featured extensive penetration shots?
(9) Is it true that, when you were 16 years old, you visited a hippie “crash pad” where extensive quantities of marijuana, LSD, and other illegal drugs were consumed? (My answer would be “Yes, but I faked it.”)
My point being, whose high school years can withstand that kind of scrutiny?
We used to have a rule at the newspaper where I started my career: Anything that happens before you’re 18 years old is off-limits. Even murder. We never reported the crimes of juveniles, or, if it was necessary to report on a crime involving juveniles in which adults were involved, we acknowledged their presence at the scene of the crime but never named them.
Society as a whole, at least in the South I grew up in, had the same basic philosophy. It was assumed that any brain under the age of 18 was not fully formed yet, and so you needed to contain the teenagers but make sure they didn’t get punished for the rest of their lives. Court records were sealed. They went to special jails where they were automatically released when they turned 18. Everything was set up to protect, to rehabilitate, and, for the most part, to make sure your reputation was not harmed by youthful high jinks or, for that matter, youthful felonies.
Kavanaugh may or may not have committed actual crimes when he was in high school—it’s pretty obvious he was an obnoxious prep-school kid who didn’t have a lot of restraint—but I know at least a dozen kids from my own high school who did commit felonies and ended up living productive lives. I still believe in the old rules—that it’s not healthy for society to punish kids too severely. The message they need to be getting is not “If you screw up in high school, it could follow you around for the rest of your life.” The message they need to be getting is “Don’t screw up in high school, but if you do, just step up and be honest about it and we’ll deal with it in a fair way.”
Because kids are gonna drink. And kids are gonna have sex. And kids are gonna cross all kinds of lines they shouldn’t be crossing. And kids are gonna elude the police when they can—not because they fear jail, but because they fear their parents. The idea of questioning anyone about stuff that happened in high school four decades after the fact is like asking a butterfly why he was once a caterpillar. He doesn’t know. He can’t explain it. He looks at that 17-year-old kid and wonders who that is.
Let’s not have Lifetime Detention Hall, okay? It’s not good for the kid, and it’s especially not good for the country.