Even before Robert Bork died last month, he had achieved something close to martyrdom. In the quarter-century since the Senate rejected his Supreme Court nomination, successive generations of conservative lawyers and activists have carried the torch, depicting his defeat as an injustice of historic proportion. Following his death at the age of 85, liberals mostly maintained a respectful silence while conservatives dusted off old complaints about the conduct of the confirmation hearing and the unfairness, in their view, of the "borking" the nominee received. Clearly, the Bork Battle survives Bork.What is interesting here is not Robert Bork, but rather how the production and support of this sort of (for lack of a better term) insanity has increasingly become the primary product of the right wing noise machine.
Some time after the Senate vote, I was invited to a conversation with Judge Bork at the offices of The New Republic magazine. He was hurting and angry. When my turn came to ask a question, I asked him whether, at any time during the hearing, he had felt that a member of the Judiciary Committee had met him on his own level in serious constitutional conversation.
"No," he answered.
"Not even Arlen Specter?" I asked.
"Specter had his mind made up from the beginning," he snapped.
I knew that wasn't true, although Judge Bork clearly believed it. Senator Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, had in fact agonized over his vote, as I knew from having talked with him almost daily. A Yale Law School graduate and former prosecutor, the senator went head to head with the nominee through several rounds of questioning, hours of mesmerizing constitutional debate in which he probed for any sign of flexibility in Judge Bork's view that the entire course of modern constitutional law was profoundly mistaken. Finding none, Senator Specter, who had assumed at the start of the hearing that he would vote for confirmation, decided to vote No, fully recognizing the price he would pay within his own party. Five other Republicans followed. (Judge Bork and Senator Specter, whose paths crossed at such a significant moment in their lives, died within months of each other; Arlen Specter, who eventually became a Democrat, died in October at 82.)
I should explain this column's title, "Robert Bork's Tragedy." I see him as a tragic figure: not because he was dealt an unjust hand - he wasn't - but because of his inability to understand what happened. He spent his final decades surrounded by acolytes who stoked his sense of victimhood, and there seemed to be no one around him to provide a reality check as his rants about the Supreme Court's depredations and the collapse of Western civilization (he portrayed the two as inextricably linked) became ever more extravagant. (In a symbolic gesture aimed at the Republican base, Mitt Romney named him co-chair of his campaign advisory committee on law.)
I'm not entirely sure how to fix this rather poisonous and self-reinforcing dynamic.
Truth be told, I'm not sure that would I want to fix this dynamic.
Maybe I'm an optimist, but seems to me that this dynamic has gotten to the point they are choking on their own bile, and I see that as a good thing.
H/t Brad Delong.