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Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

‘Borking,’ From Extraordinary to Mainstream and Routine



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Posting will be light today, as once again I’m off to Dallas to tape an appearance with Glenn Beck and the good folks down at The Blaze.

Today’s Jolt looks at the Benghazi fallout and Boehner’s “Plan B,” but also looks at the late Robert Bork — and how his nomination marked a turning point in our modern political discourse:

Robert Bork, RIP

I think it was Roger Kimball who first broke the news of Robert Bork’s passing.

Judge Robert H. Bork, one of the the greatest jurists this country has ever produced, died early this morning from heart complications in a Virginia hospital near his home. He was 85.

Bork’s celebrity was only partly conferred upon him by brilliant legal work and his service as solicitor general and then acting attorney general in the tumultuous Watergate years of the Nixon administration. (Andrew McCarthy wrote an excellent summary of Judge Bork’s work in The New Criterion a few years ago: “Robert H. Bork on Law and Life.”) But by far the most important fuel for fame was the riveting, not to say obscene, attack upon his candidacy for the Supreme Court in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan.

The vicious campaign waged against Judge Bork set a new low—possibly never exceeded—in the exhibition of unbridled leftist venom, indeed hate. Reporters combed through the Borks trash hoping to find compromising tidbits; they inspected his movie rentals, and were disgusted to find the films of John Wayne liberally represented. So hysterical was the campaign against Judge Bork that a new transitive verb entered our political vocabulary: “To Bork,” scruple at nothing in order to discredit and defeat a political figure. Monsieur Guillotine gave his name to that means of execution; “progressives,” those leftists haters of America who have so disfigured our national life since the 1960s, gave us the this new form of character assassination. The so-called “Lion of the Senate,” Ted Kennedy, surely one of the most despicable men ever to hold high public office in the United States (yes, that’s saying something), stood on the Senate floor and emitted a serious of calumnious lies designed not simply to prevent Judge Bork from being appointed to the Supreme Court but to soil his character irretrievably.

William Jacobson once summarized:

Borking is the complete politicization of the judicial nomination process, in which bad motives are imputed to purely legal positions. So if a judicial nominee believes that a particular issue is beyond the reach of the federal judiciary and properly for the political process, that nominee will have the worst motives imputed to him or her, including an imputed desire for bad results. Thus, taking the position that there is no federal constitutional right for [insert claimed right here] allows people like Ted Kennedy to claim that the nominee wants [insert horrific result here].

This tendency to treat judicial restraint as inherently negative, and to insist that the judiciary take on a super-political role, is why borking works so much better against conservatives.

He cited Joe Nocera, a rare liberal voice who is willing to honestly discuss his own side’s moral failings, and who correctly identified the turning point that Bork’s treatment presented:

The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. For years afterward, conservatives seethed at the “systematic demonization” of Bork, recalls Clint Bolick, a longtime conservative legal activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coined the angry verb “to bork,” which meant to destroy a nominee by whatever means necessary. When Republicans borked the Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright less than two years later, there wasn’t a trace of remorse, not after what the Democrats had done to Bork. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust — the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one . . .

The character assassination began the day Bork was nominated, when Ted Kennedy gave a fiery speech describing “Robert Bork’s America” as a place “in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters,” and so on. It continued until the day the nomination was voted down; one ad, for instance, claimed, absurdly, that Bork wanted to give “women workers the choice between sterilization and their job.”

Conservatives were stunned by the relentlessness — and the essential unfairness — of the attacks. But the truth is that many of the liberals fighting the nomination also knew they were unfair. That same Advocacy Institute memo noted that, “Like it or not, Bork falls (perhaps barely) at the borderline of respectability.” It didn’t matter. He had to be portrayed “as an extreme ideological activist.” The ends were used to justify some truly despicable means.

And that gets us to where we are today, where an unwillingness to assent to a liberal’s unspecified legislative agenda is cited as ipso facto evidence that you support the mass murder of children, as Drew M. showcases. No wonder most Americans don’t pay attention to politics. They think it’s an insane asylum of the obnoxious, self-righteous, hateful and unhinged.

E. M. Zanotti, once a law student of Bork’s, offers a glimpse of the man the cameras never got to see:

Like most modern geniuses, he also had his quirks, which being a professor in a school of barely 300 will bring to light rather quickly. Robert Bork had a morning ritual, on days his wife Mary Ellen (or Saint Mary Ellen, as everyone came to know her, because she really is one of the nicest and most tolerant women alive) stayed in DC, was to walk down the hall from his office with a cigarette in one hand and a frosted doughnut in the other. Occasionally, he sported trucker hats with his suit. Not like the kind you buy in gas stations, but the kind of Ashton Kutcher-style trucker hats that have the mesh in back, like the kind you get for free when you buy your first John Deere tractor for mowing the back 40. And one time, at a picnic to celebrate the law school’s Fifth Anniversary, Robert Bork noticed a pile of fried chicken I assume that he figured his wife wouldn’t let him have. So he opened the sewn-shut pockets of his suit jacket and stuffed wads of greasy drumsticks inside. For later. Or at least until Mary Ellen noticed the grease stains near his waistline.

Looks like that fried chicken didn’t keep him from reaching 85. RIP, Judge Bork.


Tags: Politics , Robert Bork


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