An Open Letter to Senator Susan Collins

Dear Senator Collins:

You don’t know me. I’m not even a constituent. I grew up in and have lived the last 30+ years in Massachusetts. Like many another New Englander I think of New England as home. Though these six states differ from each other, and each one is diverse in and of itself, they do have a few things in common.

When I was growing up, nearly all of my relatives were Republicans. The exception was my father, a Roosevelt-supporting Democrat. Republicans in those days generally favored small towns, small government, fiscal responsibility, and a somewhat laissez-faire approach to personal matters, best summarized by the variously attributed quote “I don’t care what you do as long as you don’t do it in the street and scare the horses.”

The GOP has undergone a sea-change since then. If any of my older relatives were alive today, I’m pretty sure most of them would have left the party for the ranks of the unenrolled. A few might even have become Democrats. I am writing to you in the hope that you might be one of those old-style Republicans, of the kind I grew up with and you probably did too.

And yes, I am writing about the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court of the United States. The news reports say that you are still undecided — or at least undeclared. A while back you said that you were reassured by Judge Kavanaugh’s statement that he considered Roe v. Wade “settled law.” I’m not sure there is such a thing as “settled law,” and based on his other statements and decisions I don’t think he supports a woman’s right to choose abortion. Yesterday you were reported as saying that you thought that the FBI appeared to have conducted “a very thorough investigation” of the allegations that as a young man Judge Kavanaugh had committed sexual assault. Given the speed of the investigation and the long list of potential informants who were never interviewed, I have to disagree.

However, though I do believe Christine Blasey Ford’s account of what happened in 1982 and greatly admire her courage for coming forward in 2018, I no longer think that the decision to vote for or against Judge Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court should rest on what happened in 1982 or even on his apparently anti-choice views.

Having watched Judge Kavanaugh’s astonishing performance before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, I do not need an FBI investigation to tell me that this man is unfit to sit on the nation’s highest court. A man who can’t manage his own anger, who gives vent to conspiracy theories that are unsupported by any evidence, who can’t be civil to the senators asking him difficult questions — this is the kind of behavior that if done in the street, would scare the horses. It’s scaring me. It also scares me that so many congressional Republicans have managed to rationalize this behavior and find it acceptable.

Senator Collins, my mother was an alcoholic. I grew up with this kind of explosive anger. I grew up with a mother who was even-tempered and reliable when sober and a harridan when drunk. I’ve seen such Jekyll/Hyde behavior in others over the years, and heard the stories that my recovering alcoholic friends tell about their drinking days. Interestingly enough, most of my mother’s co-workers weren’t aware she was an alcoholic. In the office she was sober. Within half an hour of getting home, she was stumbling, passing-out drunk.

I know how this works, Senator, and as a result I strongly suspect that Brett Kavanaugh is an alcoholic, maybe an actively drinking alcoholic or maybe a “dry drunk”: an alcoholic who isn’t drinking but hasn’t taken any steps toward recovery. I can’t come up with any other hypothesis that explains what I’ve seen and read during this confirmation process. It explains Judge Kavanaugh’s many failures of memory, and the striking contradictions between how he recalls his own behavior and how his friends recall it. It explains his belligerence toward Senator Amy Klobuchar when she asked him about his drinking.

By focusing so narrowly on what happened in 1982, the FBI has shed no meaningful light on Judge Kavanaugh’s fitness to serve on the Supreme Court. It did not need to, for his unfitness has been on public display during this confirmation process. I see it, and virtually everyone I know who’s dealt with alcoholism up close and personal sees it. I hope that you are like those old-style Republicans I grew up with and can see it too.

Sincerely yours,

Susanna J. Sturgis
West Tisbury, Massachusetts

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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11 Responses to An Open Letter to Senator Susan Collins

  1. Here, here! Wonderfully said and duly ignored.

    I no longer believe reconciliation with the Republican Party is possible, especially without McCain. They dehumanize every person who dares to oppose their views, labeling those who do not stand up and salute their shorts as “evil” “stupid” and “un-American”… Well no more after this willingness to elect party proud justices to OUR Supreme Court. My empathy meter for Republican “suffering” is on empty. No more. They no longer not only do not have any consideration from me, they don’t even have my ear. If straight ticket voting is the only way to remove these self-righteous, self-entitled would-be emperors, then so be it. We The People is ALL of us, or it is NONE of us.


    • Yep. For the time being “vote the person, not the party” just isn’t an option., certainly on the national level but I’m working to evict our at-best-mediocre Republican governor. The best many people can say about him is that he’s “pretty good – for a Republican.” Sorry, that’s too low a benchmark. He also endorsed the Trump supporter who’s running against Elizabeth Warren for the U.S. Senate. IMO that’s reason enough to vote against him, but there are plenty of others.


  2. Ned Schrems says:

    I’m not going to argue whether K’s behavior in the hearing was appropriate or not. There are no objective standards that apply, and I see no reason to be obsequious to persona trying to destroy one’s reputation. I will argue, however, that the relevant information regarding judicial temperament is better found in the opinions of that from those who have dealt with him as a judge. I heard absolutely no complaints or allegations based on that experience. When their opinion was based only on knowledge of him as a judge, the ABA rated him as highly qualified. If you’re deciding whether I belong on your baseball team, don’t judge my ice skating.


  3. Deb mensinger says:

    Thank you Susanna for this. Well done. (Can you send it to take via tweet or fax bot thingamajig?)


    • I sent it through Collins’s website. I’m not on Twitter, but a friend tweeted it for me. I might have to finally get on Twitter, like I might have to finally get a cell phone, but it’s not going to be till after the midterms. I’m already too close to adrenaline overload!


  4. Well done. Thank you for your action!


  5. Susan Holmes says:

    Thoughtful and (as always) well-informed, substantive writing. Thank you.


  6. Juleann VanBelle says:

    Excellent! I wish you would also forward it to Senators Flake, Sasse, and Deb Fischer of Nebraska. It is my firm belief that it is the Republican senators who need to hear from us, even those who are considered a likely “yes” vote. Thanks for putting all of this into a coherent statement.

    (And the Democrats need “thank you” calls. When I called Senator Leahy’s office last week the very kind staff person & I both started crying. Senator Durbin’s office was grateful for the support, which they had not been getting.)


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