Robert Bork died three days ago. I knew the name as a teenager because my father used it as an example of congress politicizing judicial confirmations. This was during the Clinton years, when the federal judiciary was understaffed because congress wouldn’t confirm many of Clinton’s nominees, even at the trial level. That situation remains. My father said it had all started in the 1980s, when Democrats wouldn’t confirm Robert Bork to the Supreme Court, even though Bork was very smart and deserved to be there. That sounded quite unfair to me, and I repeated this statement at school. Bork had been Borked, after all, he was the first one, and if Democrats were going to politicize the confirmation process, then Republicans inevitably would too, to the detriment of our justice system. And if the result was that judicial nominees never actually gave honest answers to questions in public, well that was an even bigger pity, and wasn’t it a shame that Democrats had started Borking in the 1980s.
In law school I read some things that Bork actually wrote, and I was embarrassed, for him and for me. Bork may have been smart. He must have done well in law school, well enough to get onto law review and begin a career in legal academia. As the Atlantic says:
Even if Bork had never been “borked” (verb: to have one’s nomination to high office be subject to zealous political attack), he would have been a colossal figure in the law. He was a former federal appeals court judge. He was a Yale law professor. He was a Justice Department official during the Nixon Administration; it was Bork who was left standing at Justice on the evening of October 20, 1973 following the “Saturday Night Massacre,” which saw the firing of Archibald Cox and the resignation of Elliot Richardson. Most recently, he was a legal adviser to the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
But much of what Bork wrote was stupid. What I mean by that is that his arguments are flimsy, so easy to pick apart that the process becomes tedious. He makes things up wholesale, cites evidence that doesn’t actually support his theses, and uses labels to disparage things he can’t actually refute. I would be guilty of the same if I didn’t provide examples, some of which are here (I owe this link to unfogged).
For example: “Midnight basketball is so obviously a frivolous notion that it need not be discussed.”
For the uninitiated, midnight basketball was an effort to reduce crime in the 1990s by keeping urban kids busy playing basketball. Games were scheduled between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. I don’t know whether it worked or not, but it stands to reason that a non gang-related activity might reduce the incidence of nocturnal gang violence. The program was cut at around the same time Bork’s 1996 book, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, came out.
What Bork is doing here is no different from saying that X is bad because it’s bad. I could say that Sean Hannity fucks goats because he fucks goats and that his goat fucking is so obvious that it need not be discussed, with the same level of intellectual rigor as Robert Bork, Supreme Court nominee, employed.
See also: “The fossil record is proving a major embarrassment to evolutionary theory.”
Bork may not have been extremely smart, but he was smart enough to know that he was making unsupported arguments. He made them anyway, and that was his career. I noticed in law school that the supply/demand ratio was much better for conservatives than for everyone else. There were fewer of them. A mediocre student could, if he wrote the write papers for the write professors, find himself a nice clerkship with a conservative circuit court judge. The thought crossed my mind to employ that strategy, but I was more heavily drawn to a countervailing desire to occasionally kiss women.
Bork may not have had that prospect. Either way, his writing shows that he was intellectually dishonest. That’s another way of saying he was a public swindler, which is itself too kind a term in that it implies some kind of entertainment value which he did not provide. There are apter terms that come to mind, but those would also apply to a great many other public figures who have made a career out of fooling the masses, those who might not have gone to law school and might give an unexamined credit to arguments that support candidates who their daddies support, for whatever reason. Bork has many progeny, who are even less artful than he was, but sell just as well. They pose in front of the statue of liberty and the U.S. flag and try to trick poor people into hating the policies that were put into place to help them. Long ago these people were called carpet baggers. Now I suppose they’re just Republicans who write books.