While the saga of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh has erupted into a major story around the country for many Americans, the battle has a slightly different ring to it for those of us who grew up in the same area as Kavanaugh, just outside of Washington, D.C., and that was very apparent as I met up with a group of my high school friends this weekend.
For almost the last twenty years, eight of us have gathered in various places around the country to tell the same stories, play a little golf, drink a few beers, play some cards, and remember one of our friends who left us too early many years ago.
I was supposed to arrive on Thursday to this year’s event, but instead I was in the hearing room for the Senate Judiciary Committee testimony by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Judge Kavanaugh; then, the events of Friday further delayed me.
So, when I reached the front door, there was only one thing my old friends wanted to talk about.
And that was the Brett Kavanaugh nomination.
My buddies aren’t overtly political people, as they have spread their way around the nation, from Boston to New York, Denver, Florida and California. Only two of us are still left in the D.C. area. Partisan politics was not in their blood – but there were very aware of what was going on.
“It was kind of like the local industry,” my friend Art said about the political scene.
As a group, my friends still pay attention to the news, making this story all the most interesting to them, as we grew up not far from Kavanaugh and his friends in Bethesda and Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside of Washington, D.C.
We are one and two years older than Kavanaugh, running around the same streets as the President’s Supreme Court nominee; we know all the names of the schools where Kavanaugh and his friends went, all the country clubs, and more.
In many ways, it’s a local story for us – not a Supreme Court story. One of the dads on my kid’s baseball team was a classmate and friend of Kavanaugh in high school. Another guy I know was friends with the Blasey family.
When the judge refers to churches named Little Flower or Blessed Sacrament, we know exactly what he is talking about.
What are some of the things that struck my group from Bethesda and Chevy Chase? For one, it’s a personal story. We know the players.
1. Kavanaugh setting out his social group to exclude Ford. We were public school kids, so we knew the names of the big private schools like Georgetown Prep and Holton Arms, where Kavanaugh and Ford went. In his testimony on Thursday, Kavanaugh very specifically carved out a private school arena that excluded Ford’s school, rattling off the names of a number of Catholic schools. “When my friends and I spent time together at parties on weekends, it was usually with friends from nearby Catholic all-girl high schools: Stone Ridge, Holy Child, Visitation, Immaculata, Holy Cross,” Kavanaugh said, referring to Ford’s school as an “independent private school.”
2. Ford though says her school socialized with Prep. While Kavanaugh was at Georgetown Prep, about two miles outside the Beltway, we went to school four miles to the south at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. Holton-Arms is a very small private all-girls school that was four miles to the west of our campus. It might sound a long ways away, but it’s all in the southern part of Montgomery County, Maryland where we lived. While none of us had too wide of a social group, the private schools were different, as they spanned much of the Washington area. While Kavanaugh characterized his social set as one which was focused on Catholic girls schools, in Maryland and Washington, D.C., Ford related a similar story, name-checking well-known boys schools in the suburbs like Landon and Georgetown Prep, but also Gonzaga on Capitol Hill.
3. Some political moments from the Judge. There were two things that struck my friends from the Kavanaugh testimony – other than the obvious one which quickly reached meme status of, “I like beer.” But on that subject of drinking, the Kavanaugh exchange with Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) was something that immediately came up. Klobuchar’s father suffered from alcoholism, and so it was a somewhat stunning moment in the hearing room as I sat 15 feet from the judge, when he threw Klobuchar’s question about drinking right back at her, asking her if she had ever been blackout drunk. And it registered with my old friends as well.
4. “Revenge on behalf of the Clintons.” All of us know that Supreme Court nominees tilt one way or the other. That’s no secret. There is a reason that certain judges are picked by Presidents of one party or the other. We aren’t rookies at this thing called politics, as my friends grew up with a keen sense of what was going on at the White House and Capitol Hill. But it was obvious from their reviews of Thursday’s hearing that one piece of Kavanaugh’s opening statement had really left a mark, where he blamed some of the attacks and allegations as “revenge on behalf of the Clintons,” which evidently related to Kavanaugh’s time working for Ken Starr in the Monica Lewinsky/Whitewater investigation.
5. The mean streets of Bethesda and Chevy Chase. One thing my friends also talked about was previous testimony from Kavanaugh, when he discussed living in the ‘murder capital of the world,’ referring to the time when certain parts of Washington, D.C. were very violent. But that wasn’t our neck of the woods. There were no barricades at Chevy Chase Circle or Westmoreland Circle. When I came back to D.C. for high school in 1977, the urban areas of Washington were much like those I had experienced when living in the immediate suburbs of Chicago and Detroit – there were places which were not safe. There’s a sports radio talk show host in Washington who jokes about growing up on the ‘mean streets of McLean, Virginia,” which is just across the Potomac River from us, another upper income suburb of the nation’s capital. We were lucky as kids. We weren’t in danger.
6. The country clubs are also of note. Dr. Ford talked about how she met Kavanaugh through some common friends at Columbia Country Club, one of the three big clubs in our area, along with the Chevy Chase Club, and Congressional Country Club. The Blasey family were members at Columbia. Back in the 1980’s, the Kavanaughs were members at Congressional. Lots of amateur sleuths say that Kavanaugh would never have been at Columbia, but if you’re on the swim or dive teams in the summer – as Ford was – those three clubs gather for joint meets. The three clubs are in the same social circles. For the record – my family got into Congressional when Kavanaugh was there – my father knew Kavanaugh’s father from lobbying circles, and my sister interned in the same Congressional office in 1983 as Brett Kavanaugh. In 1998, I played golf with Kavanaugh and another lawyer, both of whom were working on the Ken Starr investigation at the time. They wouldn’t remember me, but my reporter mind certainly remembers them. Kavanaugh left Congressional in the last two years, and switched to the Chevy Chase Club, which is not far from his home.
7. Remembering the parties back in high school. The neighborhood in Chevy Chase where Dr. Ford says she attended a party with Kavanaugh and his friends is dead center in our home turf – and it’s where Judge Kavanaugh lives now. The kids on our streets went to both public and private schools. We were always on the edge of their world as well. Realistically, we were somewhat nerdy, but probably typical for high school kids. We did dumb stuff, but I wasn’t the kid who was running down the street when the cops showed up at a house where the big party was raging because the parents were gone for the weekend. One guy in our group left our public school route and ended up at Sidwell Friends, a well-known private school in D.C., but one that he felt like was a step below the Kavanaugh group. “I wished at the time that I could have been part of their social group,” my friend Bill said. “They seemed to be having more fun.” But the “BEACH WEEK” description on the calendar of Judge Kavanaugh certainly brought up a few stories that left some of my buddies shaking their heads.