by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
During the fourth Democratic debate on Tuesday, former Vice President Joe Biden — the ostensible moderate in the race — bragged about his role in the acrimonious political attack that first made Supreme Court confirmation battles as vicious as they are today. While Democrats often blame House Speaker Newt Gingrich for coarsening America’s political rhetoric, the character assassination of Robert Bork first ignited the partisan political warfare that hit a fever pitch with Trump.
Biden is campaigning on a platform of “restoring the soul” of America, aiming to reverse the influence of Trump, whom he blames for the white nationalist riots in Charlottesville, Va. Yet the former VP played a key role in the political declaration of war that turned Bork’s last name into a verb. On Tuesday, he bragged about that.
Asked about abortion, the former senator — and Senate Judiciary Committee chairman — bragged, “When I defeated Robert Bork, I made sure we guaranteed a woman’s right to choose for the better part of a generation.”
Biden may be correct. When Reagan failed to confirm Bork in 1987, he nominated Anthony Kennedy, a far more liberal jurist who spearheaded the effort to legalize same-sex marriage — and sided with the Court’s liberals on abortion.
Yet bragging about Bork is a bad strategy, especially for a candidate who aims to present himself as a return to political civility.
As Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) wrote in his excellent book Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal, the “Borking” of Robert Bork helped create the “angry constituency” that spurred on Gingrich’s success.