If Robert Bork had never been nominated for the Supreme Court, he would have been remembered by few as a brilliant conservative jurist, whose arguments took no prisoners and left little territory to his adversaries.
But he was nominated. And the reaction from the Democrat-Media complex was more coordinated, and more bloody, than the allied landing at Normandy. His name became a verb to bork was “to defeat a judicial nomination through a concerted attack on the nominee’s character, background and philosophy.”
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 comprising 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. “Robert Bork’s America,” quoth Kennedy,
is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit down at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists would be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is often the only protector of the individual rights that are the heart of democracy.
A breathtaking congeries of falsehoods that, were they not protected by the prerogatives of senatorial privilege, would have taken a conspicuous place in the annals of malicious slander and character assassination. In The Tempting of America, Judge Bork recounts his incredulity at this tissue of malign fabrication. “It had simply never occurred to me that anybody could misrepresent my career and views as Kennedy did.” At the time, he notes, many people thought that Kennedy had blundered by emitting so flagrant, and flagrantly untrue, an attack. They were wrong. His “calculated personal assault, . . . more violent than any against a judicial nominee in our country’s history,” did the job (with a little help from Joe Biden and Arlen Specter). Not only was Kennedy instrumental in preventing a great jurist from taking his place on the Supreme Court, he also contributed immeasurably to the cheapening of American political discourse.
In a way, Robert Bork had the last laugh. Ted Kennedy went to his grave a rancid, lumbering, pathetic laughingstock. Bork went from intellectual triumph to intellectual triumph, contributing now-classic studies to the library of legal understanding and penning two of the most important works of social criticism of the last several decades, the aofremention Tempting of America and Slouching Toward Gemorrah, wild bestsellers both. I am proud to say that this spring Encounter Books will be publishing a memoir by Judge Bork called Saving Justice: Watergate,. The Saturday Night Massacre, and Other Adventures of a Solicitor General.
My reading list of conservative authors just gets longer and longer.
I just wish more of this were true. Kennedy may have been “a rancid, lumbering, pathetic laughingstock” and “surely one of the most despicable men ever to hold high public office in the United States”, but he was also a hero to many. Scott Brown sitting in “the Kennedy seat” was an affront they could not accept. We even have a partially publicly-funded mausoleum to his memory:
May it sit unfinished and unoccupied like a Ceausescu concrete pillbox it resembles.