- The Washington Times - Friday, January 5, 2001

There's a great scene in "The Godfather" - let's face it, all the scenes are great - in which Clemenza explains to Michael Corleone that every five or 10 years you need a big gang war just to clear out the bad blood. Well, Washington is going to the mattresses (another Godfatherism meaning total war) in a way it hasn't in more than a decade.

The chosen battlefield will be the confirmation hearings for John Ashcroft, Linda Chavez and Gale Norton, President-elect Bush's nominees to head, respectively, his Justice, Labor and Interior departments. But this fight won't clear any bad blood, it will just make things more poisonous.

Already the press is reporting that the exact same groups which borked Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court in 1987 are going to use the same tactics on Bush's nominees, particularly Ashcroft.

It's difficult to exaggerate the level of exaggeration these groups were willing to stoop to in order to defeat the most qualified nominee to the Supreme Court of the last generation. History has not been kind to those who tried to destroy Bork. Which is why it might be useful to review their handiwork.

People for the American Way ran a delightfully un-American ad accusing Bork of, among other things, favoring "Sterilizing workers No privacy No day in court," etc. It concluded with, "Judge Bork has consistently ruled against the interests of people" (as if the plaintiffs in his courtroom were androids, sentient animals and ghosts).

One Planned Parenthood press release read: "Robert Bork's Position on Reproductive Rights? YOU DON'T HAVE ANY." In another flyer, they added: "STATE-CONTROLLED PREGNANCY? It's not as farfetched as it sounds." They assured the uninformed that, according to Robert Bork, "states could … impose family quotas for population purposes or sterilize anyone they choose."

At the time, the Grand Mufti of asinine liberalism, Senator Ted Kennedy, issued a fatwah declaring that no historical excess against Bork could go too far. He declared, "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 … and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on millions of citizens."

With that encouragement, various groups investigated Bork's private life. Hoping to find X-rated movies, they scrounged up only classic Hitchcock. Whisper - and shouting - campaigns suggesting that Bork was anti-Semitic and racist were launched, despite the fact that Bork's first wife was Jewish (she died of cancer); that he had risked his career to win a place for a Jewish lawyer at his Chicago firm; that he took up the cause of a black woman blocked from meetings at the Justice department. And yet Gregory Peck felt no reluctance in cutting television ads suggesting Bork favored poll taxes and literacy tests.

Bork was indisputably qualified to be on the Supreme Court - and Senator Joseph Biden, the Democratic chair of the Judiciary Committee at the time, even said so before he joined the feeding frenzy. Bork was solicitor general, acting attorney general, perhaps the foremost authority on anti-trust law and a former Yale professor. He is still, a dozen years after hanging up his gavel, one of the most frequently cited authorities in judicial opinions.

All of these qualifications mattered not a bit; they were swallowed up in the self-interests of groups with other agendas. The same thing appears to be happening now.

The Washington Post reports that most of the groups see the campaign against Ashcroft as a "warm up." In the words of one Democratic leader, "This gives us a chance to get our own house in order to get our troops ready for a bigger fight."

In the meantime, Ashcroft is already being borked. Bob Herbert of The New York Times calls Ashcroft a "shameless liar." The Times and other outlets are going out of their way to make Ashcroft into some kind of Nazi. Outright accusations that he's a racist abound, though for now still in code. There is literally nothing in Ashcroft's record that suggests he is a racist.

Sure, there's plenty that shows he is in favor of restricting the role of the federal government, giving states more latitude, favoring the death penalty or showing that he is a social conservative. And for these groups that's enough to Ashcroft him.

You can write to Jonah Goldberg in care of this newspaper or by e-mail at [email protected]

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