Expect to start hearing the word "bork" more often. For those who were not around (or not paying attention) in 1987 a bit of history might be helpful.
When President Reagan nominated Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, the opposition, almost entirely from the left, was fierce. His opponents scoured every conversation he ever had, every clause in anything he ever signed, and every doodle on his legal pads. Everything negetive no matter how trivial, was presented as evidence he was lousy choice. The intensive campaign worked, and he lost the nomination.
The word "bork" became a verb, meaning to keep someone out of a position by launching an intensive smear campaign, with the implication that the opponents are underhanded and dishonest. (They are.) With the right inflection it can sound like something dirty: "She borked him, right there in front of everybody!" It has an ironically friendly, goofy sound. And for those of us who grew up with the Muppets, it calls to mind the clumsy, lovable Swedish Chief.
Borking can be used by anyone against anyone else in politics. The right is good at using it against liberal candidates. The left is even better at it when opposing conservatives. This isn't surprising, as they invented it.
It doesn't always work. Attempts to bork Clarence Thomas generated fierce debates around every water cooler in the country. Anita Hill was pressed into service as the head borker. She told tales of jokes and offhand remarks so tasteless they would only be told by someone who was, well, a guy. Clarence was such a horrible taskmaster, such an insensitive sexist lout, that she only worked for him for twelve years. She also quit one job to follow him to another, but only once.
Conservatives have never forgiven Bork's borking. Fourteen years later, they're still eager to discuss it with anyone who can't get away from them quickly enough. Most will tell you it was unconscionable, because he has a Great Legal Mind. I hope they're just repeating something they've heard, without actually checking the facts. It's too frightening to think that anyone would honestly admire him for his ideas and attitudes.
When his book Slouching Toward Gomorrah was published, I read as much of it as I could in the mall bookstore. The parts I read came across as the rankings of a cranky old guy bitching about "kids these days." When he started referring to Nine Inch Nails as a rap group I shrugged it off and put it back on the shelf, without realizing I had missed the good stuff. I recently read much of it as I could stomach. He's a bitter, myopic old man who longs for a past that never was.
His most appalling opinions are on the first amendment. He insists that it only refers to political speech, and that art, books, music, newspapers, etc. are not, and should not be covered by it. He then asserts that censorship is not just something the government can do, but something it should do, using decency boards to determine what is and isn't fit for our consumption. The tone of the text leaves no doubt that he intends such boards to be very conservative, very Christian, and very, very White.
He also says he can't make heads or tails of the ninth amendment, which simply says that a right is still a right even if it's not specifically stated in the constution. The ninth amendment gives you the right to travel, the right to privacy and the right to put too much salt on your hamburger. Bork brushes it off as being no more important or decipherable than a water blot on the constitution's parchment.
Anyone Dubya nominates for the Supreme Court is going to get borked. It's now part of the standard operating procedure. It would be nice if George offers the job to someone who has least read the constitution. If they actually believed in it that would be a nice bonus. But it doesn't matter; even if the candidate is the best person for the job, the opposing side will bork them.
I could never understand why litmus tests are considered a bad thing. We should know exactly where these guys are coming from, considering their enormous power over our every day lives. While hypothetical cases would be inappropriate, we should ask them how they would have voted on real decisions. Which important decisions did they disagree with? Which important decisions did they like? And most importantly, why?
When Clarence Thomas said he had no opinion on Roe v. Wade, the next question should have been "Would you like us to validate your parking ticket?" That's the one decision *everybody* has an opinion on, the one decision most people know by name. Eskimos bicker over it in the far reaches of the arctic. Toothless goobers in the Ozarks get drooling mad about it. Every lobster fisherman in Maine, every beach bum in Hawaii, every ivory tower academic and garage mechanic and dentist and factory worker and teacher and every student past the fifth grade has an opinion on it. Everybody except Clarence.
(Clarence has a kind of triple irony thing going. He opposes Affirmative Action, he's the country's most obvious beneficiary of it, and he's one of the best examples of why it's a bad idea. )
Bush's appointees for federal bench positions have surprised some of his supporters. They are not all hard-line, far right conservatives. There are, of course, none who could be called liberal. These appointments will give the left an opportunity to warm up, to get their borking muscles limber, to practice and perfect their smearing. And when it comes time to nominate someone for the Supreme Court, stand back. We're going to see borking like we've never seen it before.
Justice Bork's Resume
A consise history of the man
A review of Slouching Towards Gomorrah..
..and another one.
Here's an excerpt from it.
Here's how to desolve the first amendment.
© 2001 Dave Hitt