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You can always tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him much

How on Earth can Harvard produce someone as grounded and poised as Ketanji Brown Jackson and someone as unmoored and annoying as Ted Cruz?

Senator Ted Cruz showed images from the book "Antiracist Baby" as he questioned Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson about the Georgetown Day School's curriculum at her confirmation hearing in Washington.HILARY SWIFT/NYT

Time to check the water in Cambridge.

More specifically, the water that is piped into the Harvard campus.

One of life’s inexplicable wonders is how Harvard can produce someone as grounded and poised and principled as Ketanji Brown Jackson and also someone as unmoored and annoying and unscrupulous as Ted Cruz.

Providing clear evidence of how pathetic my existence is, I watched Jackson’s confirmation hearing start to finish, a marathon of high drama and low farce.

Am I a loser? Yes, but nothing like the preening senators who treated Jackson with appalling disrespect, with constant interruptions and cynical questions meant to gin up their base, not ascertain whether Jackson is qualified to sit on the Supreme Court.

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My conservative friends say this was simply turnabout is fair play, Republicans hitting back over what they considered degrading questions from Democrats directed at Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett during their confirmation hearings.

The gaslighting of Jackson, however, seemed a lot worse.

If you had to boil down the objections of Republicans to Jackson it is this: She’s a soft-on-crime, pedophile-coddling, racist-baby-kissing, terrorist-hugging Critical Race Theory nut job.

Other than that, they acknowledged, she seems nice enough.

It was hard to decide which senator combined rudeness and pandering to produce the greatest mix of condescension. Besides Cruz, Senators Lindsey Graham, Josh Hawley, and Tom Cotton - another Harvard man! - all covered themselves in something less than glory.

But when it comes unctuousness, Cruz takes the cake.

That he and Jackson served together on the Harvard Law Review didn’t spare Jackson from his unremitting bile.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin repeatedly told Cruz he was going over his allotted time and violating rules. Proving the old adage that you can always tell a Harvard man but you can’t tell him much, Cruz ignored Durbin.

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Cruz was too busy yammering about racist babies and fake women and child pornographers to pay attention to something as inconsequential as rules.

When Cruz said, “Under the modern leftist sensibilities, if I decide right now that I’m a woman, then apparently I’m a woman,” I thought, “This guy went to Harvard Law School?”

In one of the more poignant moments, Jackson recalled how unsure she was of herself as a Harvard freshman.

“Do I belong here?” she asked herself.

Walking through Harvard Yard one day, a Black woman she didn’t know passed by and pumped her up by saying, simply, “Persevere.”

Do you think Ted Cruz ever questioned whether he belonged at Harvard?

Before chalking up the disrespect shown Jackson to pure misogyny, consider how Senator Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the lone Republican woman on the Judiciary Committee, misrepresented Jackson’s views and took quotes out of context.

“Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman?’ " Blackburn asked, revealing an obsession with gender identity that was only slightly less creepy than the one about child pornographers.

Blackburn insists she knows what a woman is, but her treatment of Jackson suggests she’s a little unclear on the concept of what constitutes being a lady.

Senator Cory Booker drew tears from Jackson, noting that she had, in the face of considerable provocation, displayed grit and grace.

The dreck her detractors threw at her didn’t stick, not with anyone with a sense of decency. Their boorish tactics unwittingly provided a public service, by allowing Ketanji Brown Jackson to show, by her exemplary demeanor and intelligence, that she has the temperament to serve on the nation’s highest court.

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If confirmed, Jackson said, she will recuse herself from a case about Harvard’s admissions policy the Supreme Court will hear.

With that pledge, Jackson demonstrated more principle than some of her prospective colleagues, including Justice Clarence Thomas.

Thomas did not recuse himself from cases involving the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, even though his conservative activist wife allegedly urged White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to overturn the 2020 presidential election.


In his case, it seems, you can always tell a Holy Cross man, but you can’t tell him to do the right thing.


Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at kevin.cullen@globe.com.