I was greeted today with the news that Robert Bork has passed away. Robert Reich offered this generous assessment on his Facebook page:
We all can get angry with people who donít share our views and values, attributing to them the worst motives. But permit me a personal note. Robert Bork died today. He was a conservative, lionized by the right, condemned by the left, rejected by the Senate for the Supreme Court. But I knew him as a man of great honor, extraordinary wit, and deep commitment.... And although we disagreed on many issues, he was always willing to listen carefully and debate forcefully. I admired his intellect and his courage. He cared deeply about America.
I cannot quibble with Professor Reichís firsthand knowledge of Judge Borkís temperament. No doubt he was a nice enough guy to those who knew him personally. But thatís one of my complaints ó most of these guys are nice to those around them. Itís the people who arenít around them to whom they are unpleasant. As Dave Barry so astutely pointed out, ďA person who is nice to you but not nice to the waiter is not a nice person.Ē From where Iím sitting, Robert Bork was not nice to the waiter.
During his confirmation hearing, I was working as a messenger. Since I was in the car all day I tuned my radio to NPR, which carried the hearings live. Bork was articulate and had a very pleasant speaking voice. He sure didnít sound like a nut. But there was something troubling about him that actually took me several days to identify. It came down to two assertions that he made. 1) There was no right to privacy in the Constitution because it wasnít explicitly spelled out. 2) The Fourteenth Amendment only applied to African Americans because clearly that was what its drafters intended.
Maybe you spotted the problem already. In one instance there had to be explicit provision, in the other there didnít. But there was consistency in the two positions nonetheless: Borkís assertions in each instance curtailed the rights of individuals.
It was a wonderful education, listening to those hearings. Robert Bork taught me to listen ó really listen ó to what his side is saying. And to really think about the words themselves. Plus once I figured out how they put their arguments together, I could punch holes in them much more quickly. For that I am grateful.
And for the fact that he was not confirmed, I am even more grateful.
So RIP, I guess, Robert Bork. I do not know what lies on the other side, but I hope when you got there you learned something as useful as what you taught me.