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C'mon, Bork wasn't 'borked'?

by Gary Larson


Defenders of judicial activism -- i.e. judges "making" laws -- are forced to stand reality on its head to claim Robert H. Bork was not "borked" in 1987. Clearly he was, giving rise to a new verb. That is a stubborn fact of history. Millions witnessed it unfold as if one bad surreal film. Or was it film noir?

"To bork" is politically to debauch, to misrepresent a nominee's record. The goal is to strike him or her down. Truth becomes irrelevant; in Bork's case, it was buried in an avalanche of lies. What happened to him in 1987 in the U.S. Senate was vulgar, cheap and disgusting.

A cynical public today will say it's "politics as usual." Bork's nomination was not hardball politics, as one pundit claims, but beanball. Bork was felled by nasty curve balls aimed squarely at his head in his bid to be an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. It was ugly.

Eleven years later, another batch of Senate Democrats solemnly pledged impartiality, then acquitted Bill Clinton of lying under oath. So much for their respect for truth. Justice, too?

Bork's trashing in '87 and Clinton's faux exoneration in '98 are tawdry low points in U.S. history. Neither is worthy of revisionist history, nor liberal newthink, nor reshaping the language. At least one would think.

Skilled wordsmith John P. MacKenzie might be up to the latter (The Washington Post, May 21, "Bork wasn't borked,"). His artful denials of the trashing of Judge Bork, his masterful manipulation of prose, bespeak the talented editorial writer he was for a dozen years at the New York Times.

MacKenzie now lends credibility to Orwell's dictum that language itself must be parsed, even assaulted, for corruption to be accepted, indeed praised, if only you have your priorities politically correct.

Bork will be shocked he was not "borked." Historians, too, will do double-takes. But then, consider now a defender of judicial activism, MacKenzie, has an ax to grind. He assails "substantive injustices that [Bork's] views of the Constitution would permit." How unmistakably presumptuous, and smug to boot.

MacKenzie tips us off early to his bias. Bork's detractors were, he says, "defenders of constitutional liberty." He chooses words, so malleable for ideological purposes, well, as a propagandist would. Is this how revisionist history is written?

What is "constitutional liberty?" It is code for judicial activism. And shorthand for interpreting the Constitution (i.e., freely) to say whatever you want it to say, or think it should say but doesn't. Bork would simply not go there, and that's the rub.

Constructionists such as Bork rely on intent of "the framers," a.k.a. the Founding Fathers. Hip liberals would prefer to twist the Constitution until it cries "uncle!" to suit overtly political purposes. In this way they sidestep legislative processes. Judges calling the shots is more efficient, anyway, shortcuts to "social justices." But in a liberal Jeffersonian democracy? That'd be judiciary rules, not we the people, and the archetypal end result of judicial activism.

See-no-evil MacKenzie says Bork "beat himself." Sure, and pigs fly. Alas, he would have us believe Bork was simply the target of "hardball" politics as -- get a load of this loaded word -- an "aggressor" to concepts of judicial activism. For one who calls Bork's writing "caustic" and his philosophy "rigid," it's no surprise MacKenzie considers Bork the enemy, same as Senator Ted Kennedy in the hearing that defamed Bork.

Not shocking that a polished editorialist with liberal credentials would twist facts to suit what he'd prefer to be the truth. But to defend smearing ideological foes -- not, certainly, a one-way street -- is to live in a parallel universe where goals justify all means, and facts are hindrances, to be trumped by ideology, Oliver Stone-like.

MacKenzie exhorts his flock "do not unilaterally disarm." Hang in there, then, to "bork" -- er, cut down -- President Bush's "hard right" nominees? MacKenzie does concede the Bork nomination "showed the outer limits of permissible debate." In truth, it was over the edge.

To his soulmates MacKenzie writes: "Strike hard, but fairly." Only the former applied for Bork. We who witnessed the agonizing assaults on truth in Senate Judiciary hearings, who've read Bork's book, The Tempting of America, know what the truth is. Clearly, Bork was slandered and libeled with impunity.

Metamorphosing Senate Democrats' mugging of Bork into something it was not is a tall order. MacKenzie is smoothly adept in his effort, but he'll not be successful. The record, you see, is unambiguous; it's on tape and in history books. The American people Know what happened. "To bork" is fixed now as a distasteful transitive verb in American politics, and a baseline of all public cynicism.

Liberal columnist E. J. Dionne Jr. got it right. "Nefarious tactics were used," he said, to "trash Bork." That truth will stand for the ages, and should be an object lesson to all parties on how not to do nominations.

See also:  Pushing the ethical envelope by Kirsten Andersen

Larson, a freelance writer in northern Minnesota, is a former business magazine editor, and not the retired cartoonist.

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Gary Larson, 2001, All rights reserved.

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