In this case, Republicans’ refusal to engage is particularly telling. Throughout the hearings, Republican lawmakers praised Dr. Blasey Ford for her credibility, likely aware of how bad it would look if they called her a liar. They tried to have it both ways, acknowledging that something terrible had happened to her while also insisting on Kavanaugh’s innocence. It was a cheap rhetorical move, especially given that Dr. Blasey Ford said she was “100 percent certain” Kavanaugh was her assailant, but turning sexual-assault survivors into an abstraction helped the senators keep some distance: They could claim that of course they care about survivors in general, but this one is just mixed up, and of course allegations of sexual assault should be taken seriously, but these ones are an exception. When faced with actual, non-abstract, flesh-and-blood survivors, though, the ruse falls apart.

Citing her own bird-dogging of a dismissive Mitch McConnell, Naina Khanna of the Positive Women’s Network told the Cut: “When elected officials like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuse to speak to us when we bring our legitimate concerns about issues that can be life or death, that also says a lot about what they think and who matters to them. Lots of people noticed that even as he refused to address the two women of color I was with and myself, he shook the hand of a white man. Even small actions like that shed light on their interests, their priorities, and who they feel they are accountable to.”

Ultimately, bird-dogging’s greatest strength is that is forces politicians to confront the humanity of the people their policies affect. These encounters are raw and emotional, because the issues being discussed are raw and emotional, and have a very real impact on people’s lives.