When Joe Nocera Became an Op-Ed Columnist, a Remarkably Good Long-Form Reporter Became a Flaneur of Unsurpassed Ignorance
Why oh why can't you have a better press corps?
Joe Nocera: quit your job, and get back to doing what you used to do very well.
Joe Nocera: The Ugliness All Started With Bork: On Oct. 23, 1987 — 24 years ago on Sunday — Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court was voted down by the Senate. All but two Democrats voted “nay.”
The rejection of a Supreme Court nominee is unusual but not unheard of (see Clement Haynsworth Jr.). But rarely has a failed nominee had the pedigree — and intellectual firepower — of Bork. He had been a law professor at Yale, the solicitor general of the United States and, at the time Ronald Reagan tapped him for the court, a federal appeals court judge.
Moreover, Bork was a legal intellectual, a proponent of original intent and judicial restraint…. Whatever you think of [his] views, they cannot be fairly characterized as extreme…
Six Republican Senators--John Chafee (R-RI), Bob Packwood (R-OR), Arlen Specter (then R-PA), Robert Stafford (R-VT), John Warner (R-VA) and Lowell P. Weicker, Jr.--thought that Bork's views were extreme enough that they broke party discipline and crossed their President to vote against Bork. Note that Bork wasn't filibustered: he was defeated. He only got 42 votes, with 58 Senators opposed. He only got 5 out of the 14 votes of the Judiciary Committee, losing all the Democrats--even the southern Democrats--as well as Republican Senator Specter.
But let me turn the microphone over to James Boyle, who writes:
A Process of Denial: Bork and Postmodern Conservatism: In 1963, when conservatives were worried that Congress might force white folks to open their hotels and restaurants to black folks, Mr. Bork was a libertarian with a high regard for individual freedom of association. He had this to say about the Interstate Accommodations Act:
The legislature would inform a substantial body of the citizenry that in order to carry on the trades in which they are established they must deal with and serve persons with whom they do not wish to associate.... The fact that the coerced scale of preferences is said to be rooted in a moral order does not alter the impact upon freedom. In a society that purports to value freedom as an end in itself, the simple argument from morality to law can be a dangerous non sequitur.... The principle of such legislation is that if I find your behavior ugly by my standards, moral or aesthetic, and if you prove stubborn about adopting my view of the situation, I am justified in having the state coerce you into more righteous paths. That is itself a principle of unsurpassed ugliness….
[Yet] by 1990, Mr. Bork will believe that a majority must legislate morality if it is not to "dissolve social bonds."…
[As of] 1971, the libertarian side of Mr. Bork's ideas had gone into decline…. Mr. Bork confessed nobly to his change of heart, at least insofar as it implied a reversal of his position over Griswold v. Connecticut. In 1968, together with other commentators, he had thought that case "a salutary demonstration of the Court's ability to protect fundamental human values."… By 1971 he felt it was an "unprincipled decision," both its derivation and its definition being "utterly specious."…
It is in his argument in favour of "legislated morality" that Bork's views become more complicated. He still seems to believe that moral decisions are not subject to proof or refutation and thus are unreviewable by the analytic techniques of judicial reason. Thus there is no alternative but to leave it to the democratic legislature and the majority view. This sounds like moral relativism to me. But Mr. Bork reserves the term "relativist" for those who disagree with him, particularly those who disagree with him about the propriety of "legislated morality." Liberals assume that if morals are subjective and relative, the state should not be allowed to legislate morality for its citizens. Mr. Bork draws rather different conclusions…
Robert Bork was always extreme. The extremes were different at different points in his career, but he was always far out there. No, the ugliness did not start with Bork's confirmation. The unsurpassed ugliness started with Bork's rejection of the Interstate Accommodations Act.