It's Bork, Stupid

by tristero

Originally, this was going to be a post in which I took Kennedy's famous denunciation of Robert Bork and buttressed it with numerous links and quotes. I couldn't write that post, because I couldn't find the information quickly enough to do so in a timely fashion.

Why is it important to defend Kennedy's successful opposition of Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court, one of the Senator's greatest achievements?

Well, if you make a google using the terms robert bork nomination kennedy, the first thing that comes up (as of 10:00 am Eastern today) is a genuinely disgusting National Review Online article reprinted on NPR. The third is a poorly written attack on Kennedy and a defense of Bork on Powerline. If you Google the blogs with the same terms, up comes nothing on the first page but posts condemning Kennedy's opposition to Bork or simply reports that he opposed him.

That is how fast the rightwing acts to get out in front to set the terms of the debate.

On the other hand, the defense of Kennedy's opposition is disorganized and tepid. In fact, I couldn't find much this morning. For example, Josh's site, which is widely read by journalists, has essentially the standard praise for Kennedy we see everywhere, but nothing on Bork, one of Kennedy's finest moments. This link from Tapped was the best I could come up with. All the serious opposition articles from that time that I checked or tried to find - on the Washington Post, the Times, the New York Review of Books - are incomplete, inadequate for use today, or behind firewalls for which you have to pay for access. Furthermore, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, which published an influential report called "Bork v. Bork" during the nomination hearings, has not yet chosen to post it to the web.

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure that if I took more than the hour plus that I actually did take to search the web, and if I were more clever in my search terms, I could eventually find quotes that would convince anyone sane that Robert Bork is a world-class kook. My point is that no one, neither Democrats nor progressives, has bothered to make that information easy to find. Meanwhile, the right has marshalled its attacks so quickly that once again, we are playing catchup.

Here is what Kennedy said, less than an hour after Bork was nominated to the Supreme Court.
Robert Bork's America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens' doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is -- and is often the only -- protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.
By speaking this forcefully, and - equally important - reacting so quickly to Reagan's awful appointment, Kennedy helped prevent Bork's for elevation to the highest court in the land, for which this country owes the Senator its gratitude.

I have no doubt that Kennedy was 100% right about Bork. However, without backup, Kennedy seems over the top, beyond the pale, shrill, unstatesmanlike, etc. While Tapped tried, its links barely support Kennedy's assertions. And as of this writing, no one in the Democratic party and no progressive organization has thought to compile easily accessible and truly comprehensive support for Kennedy's charges.

No wonder we lose so often. No wonder we can't make use of our victories.

Oh, some of you in comments may come up with a link that I missed (and thanks in advance for doing so)... and maybe later today, Glenn or some other lawyer will put up a pile of stuff, but it's already too late. Relevant material necessary to oppose the rightwing should always be within easy reach of anyone with a computer. And just as we saw with healthcare this summer, both Democrats and progressive groups failed to anticipate an easily predicted, organized rightwing assault.

Now you may think, who cares? The coverage of Kennedy has been almost completely worshipful and Bork is ancient history. To which I respond that to the right, nothing is too trivial, no battle is so old that they wont try to make it an issue if they think it will advance their position today. No, we shouldn't behave like the right. But Democrats and progressive leaders need to understand that when it comes to confronting the right, this ain't no party, this ain't no disco, this ain't no fooling around.

[UPDATE: Here's a link to a pdf of the "Biden Report", which was used back in '87 to oppose Bork. It's 72 pages, far too long to qualify for rapid responses in the age of Twitter.]