Skipping over such lurid minutia, most Democrats, and plenty of others—in the end about two-thirds or more of the country—joined Clinton in embracing his larger truth: The investigation was a partisan vendetta, delving into private matters that had no place in the public square. In a televised speech acknowledging his affair, Clinton gave a brief apology in a flat tone and then launched into an animated attack on the unfairness of his inquisitors that came seven years after Clarence Thomas’s and 20 years before Brett Kavanaugh’s.

Most Kavanaugh defenders probably do not literally believe that his yearbook boasting about membership in the “Renate Alumnius Club” was intended as a gesture of affection to a valued friend, or that his reference to “ralphing” could have referred to his sensitivity to spicy foods, that “Devil’s Triangle” is a variant of the drinking game quarters, or that he doesn’t know that the legal drinking age in Maryland was 21, not 18, in the summer of 1982. But they do believe his larger truth—little different than Clinton’s, though delivered at higher volume and with even more belligerence—that the attacks on him are motivated by politics.

The question of truth and lies in politics is further clouded by the reality that public debate, in my experience, often touches only glancingly at the kind of things people really think and argue in private.