Bench Memos

Bork Battle as “Beginning of the End of Civil Discourse in Politics”

In his column Saturday in the New York Times, Joe Nocera tells his fellow liberals* that the “character assassination” of Judge Robert Bork 24 years ago is “a reminder that our poisoned politics is not just about Republicans behaving badly, as many Democrats and their liberal allies have convinced themselves”:

Democrats can be — and have been — every bit as obstructionist, mean-spirited and unfair. 

I’ll take it one step further. 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.

* I’m not familiar with Nocera, who apparently has been a twice-a-week NYT columnist since March. On a quick review of a couple of his columns, I refer to him as a liberal in part because that’s how he characterizes himself—even as he expresses surprise at “how darned liberal I sound sometimes”—and in part because he has complained about how “Tea Party Republicans have waged jihad on the American people” (though I’ll note that, to his credit, he later apologized for his “intemperate and offensive” remarks).