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The Politics of Personal Destruction Accurate Characterization

[ 19 ] August 28, 2008 |

I have some minor quibbles with Jeffrey Rosen’s defense of Joe Biden’s handling of the Bork and Thomas confirmation hearings. While I agree with Rosen, for example, that the looking into Bork’s video records was outrageous, it’s also not reasonable to conflate that with Anita Hill. But since there seems to be a rule that it has to be mentioned in any Broderite complaint about the confirmation process, I was really dreading the inevitable blubbering about mean Ted Kennedy’s treatment of poor defenseless Robert Bork, and sure enough we got it — but with a twist. Nothing in Kennedy’s famous statement was inaccurate, although I grant that some of it was tendentious. (I know, shocking behavior from a politician.) When he said that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which…blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters,” he was right that Bork had both claimed that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional and bad policy, but Bork had at least repudiated his position once his position had been repudiated by history. But what does Rosen quote?

When President Ronald Reagan nominated Robert Bork to the court in 1987, some liberal senators and interest groups were eager to distort his record. Hours after the nomination was announced, for example, Senator Edward Kennedy charged that “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions.”

Senator Biden, who had built a national reputation by attacking the excesses of liberal interest groups, made clear that he would not tolerate these ad hominem attacks.

First of all, Kennedy’s statement wasn’t an ad hominem attack; it was an attack on Bork’s substantive views. That it was harsh doesn’t it render it ad hominem. But more to the point, the passage quoted by Rosen, far from a “distortion,” is indisputably accurate. Bork would have provided the fifth vote to overturn Roe v. Wade; this was not in serious dispute at the time, and surely Bork claiming in a book written immediately after the hearings that Roe was as bad or worse than Dred Scott settles the question. So what could Rosen’s objection possibly be? Is he claiming that no state would have banned abortion if Roe had been overruled? Is he saying that this new round of laws, unlike every other criminalization in history, would not have produced a black market? Obviously, neither argument would be tenable. Kennedy’s statement was wholly correct. If one wants to argue that Bork merited confirmation anyway, fine, but I don’t see why on earth senators shouldn’t be permitted to candidly discuss the inevitable implications of his confirmation, especially since said implications played a crucial role in the president’s decision to nominate him.

If I understand correctly, “Borking” means “describing the views of arch-reactionary judicial nominees in ways that are accurate but make centrist pundits uncomfortable.”

Comments (19)

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  1. wengler says:

    Republican appointees have learned since Bork to just say stare decisis the entire time and then do whatever they want once they are confirmed.
    Last time I checked that powder is still dry.

  2. aimai says:

    Remember, its rude to call republicans out on the obvious and intended consequences of their policies. That’s the very definition of “ad hominem” at the moment. Its merely factual, ordinary, free speech to call democrats cowards, traitors, crypto-muslims, lesbians, gays, drug runners, murderers, unamerican or just plain fat.
    I know that because I am aware of all internet and mainstream traditions.
    aimai

  3. matt says:

    It should be part of any journalism exam to give a correct definition of “ad hominem”. I’d also like journalists to be required to used “beg the question” correctly but that’s probably too much wishful thinking.

  4. jonst says:

    No, Borking means treating Republicans in the same manner as they treat Dems. Borking means ‘on rare occasions when the Dems, lurch, blindly, into winning one those proverbial street fights that the GOP usually wins’.

  5. Bostoniangirl says:

    You linked to an article about the Yankees, not a defense of Joe Biden’s handling of confirmation hearings.
    Was the article to which you intended to link in the New York Times or somewhere else?

  6. RepubAnon says:

    Borking: the act of rejecting someone based upon their unacceptably extreme positions.

  7. Matt Weiner says:

    Bostoniangirl, you just have to read the allegory correctly…
    (Real link is here.)

  8. Matt Weiner says:

    Wah, Scott stepped on my joke.

  9. Deggjr says:

    Why do professed believers in the Constitution get so upset over the rejection of Robert Bork for the Supreme Court? This is the man who fired, upon Nixon’s orders, the Watergate special prosecutors who were investigating Nixon’s law breaking.
    Bork’s action might have qualified him to be Attorney General or White House Chief of Staff, but it permanently disqualified him to be on the Supreme Court, the third branch of a ‘checks and balances’ government.
    Off topic, Bork’s commitment to tort reform was demonstrated by his lawsuit (for one million dollars) against the Yale Club after falling off a dais before delivering a speech.

  10. dan says:

    Incidentally, there’s also this error in the Rosen article: “In every presidential election from 1988 to 2004, the court had a six-justice majority in favor of upholding Roe v. Wade.” Wasn’t there an election in 1992 right after Casey was decided 5-4?

  11. Dan–yes; that’s just wrong. Roe would have been overruled in Casey had Bork been confirmed; AJK was the swing vote.

  12. Adam says:

    I use “borked” as a euphemism for “screwed up” As in, “most of the administrative agencies are totally borked now.”

  13. Northern Observer says:

    Thank you for catching this and nailing the truth on the wall for all to see.

  14. DelRPCV says:

    Bork’s video records? I think Thomas was the one into Long Dong Silver.

  15. jackd says:

    Adam, “borked” in that context has nothing to do with the Supreme Court nominee. It’s fun to use, though. “My spellcheker is borken.”

  16. PGE says:

    I always ask nutjobs who thinks Bork should have been confirmed whether they believe that we are “endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights”? When they answer in the affirmative, I point out that Bork explicitly rejects this. His thinking on that point alone probably makes him the least suited person ever nominated to the Supreme Court. Certainly the most un-American (in the sense of being opposed to the entire history of our civic culture.)

  17. [...] (as well as privately) argued that the Civil Rights Act was unconstitutional.   As I’ve argued before, it’s odd that Kennedy’s speech has come to stand for unspeakable political slander, [...]

  18. [...] made by Kennedy as inaccurate. There’s a good reason for that: Kennedy’s opposition was based on Bork’s public record. Bork did publicly denounce the Civil Rights Act as not merely unconstitutional but based on a [...]

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