I bring up Bork not only because Sunday is a convenient anniversary. His nomination battle is also a reminder that our poisoned politics is not just about Republicans behaving badly, as many Democrats and their liberal allies have convinced themselves. Democrats can be — and have been — every bit as obstructionist, mean-spirited and unfair.
I’ll take it one step further. The Bork fight, in some ways, was the beginning of the end of civil discourse in politics. For years afterward, conservatives seethed at the “systematic demonization” of Bork, recalls Clint Bolick, a longtime conservative legal activist. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution coined the angry verb “to bork,” which meant to destroy a nominee by whatever means necessary. When Republicans borked the Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright less than two years later, there wasn’t a trace of remorse, not after what the Democrats had done to Bork. The anger between Democrats and Republicans, the unwillingness to work together, the profound mistrust — the line from Bork to today’s ugly politics is a straight one.
In a discussion of political bickering and bitterness at the New York Times, Joe Nocera puts me in mind of the story of Orestes (and the dilemma of wergild)—as revenge is sought for successive crimes, humans become embroiled in unsolvable conflict. Every attempt to seek restitution results only in another crime until finally the gods have to step in to restore order.
This is not a happy thought as it suggests that the political nonsense we seem to be locked in has no solution. Where are our gods? One flicker of hope—it makes me want to read Greek tragedy again. Would my senators and representatives get the point if I suggested that they try the same?