The black days of October

Twenty years ago this month the Twins won their first World Series and my wife and I were married. Stellar events to be sure, but in the last week has been a lot said and written about Black Monday — October 19, 1987 — the day the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped more than 500 points (don’t blame me, I was out of the country on my honeymoon).

Then, just a few days later, another dark day — as noted by this morning’s Writer’s Almanac:

It was on this day in 1987 that the United States Senate rejected the Supreme Court nomination of Robert H. Bork on a 58-to-42 vote. Bork was one of the leaders of a judicial theory called “original intent,” which is the idea that Supreme Court justices can only base their decisions on what the framers of the constitution originally intended. If the constitution doesn’t mention a “right to privacy” then there is no such thing as a “right to privacy.” This idea was controversial, but Bork decided to enter the debate head on, and he openly discussed his constitutional philosophy with the senators. Democrats portrayed him as a radical, and when the final vote of the full Senate came on this day in 1987, Bork was rejected by 58 to 42. Republicans have since argued that Bork was the target of a smear campaign, and they began using his last name as a verb, saying that they wanted to prevent future nominees from getting “borked.” The word “bork” was recently added to Webster’s dictionary, defined as, “[Seeking] to obstruct a political appointment or selection, also to attack a political opponent viciously.” Robert Bork said, “My name became a verb, and I regard that as one form of immortality.”

Several years ago I read Bork’s “Slouching Towards Gomorrah: Modern Liberalism and American Decline.” As the two parts of the title suggest, I found the book an interesting juxtaposition of being both acerbicly entertaining and accessibly academic. Here’s one quote that describes the author’s life path:

In many ways, I understand the Sixties generation because at that stage of life, I reacted similarly. Suburban, middle-class life seemed stifling. Dixieland jazz was my rock and roll. All night partying was my escape, political radicalism my protest. The superintendent of schools in a heavily Republican suburb had to be brought in to prevent me from running an editorial in the high school newspaper calling for the nationalization of industry. Denunciations of bourgeois values rolled easily off my tongue. Fortunately, mine was not a large generation and very few of my high school classmates-none to be precise-felt the same way. There was no critical mass. By the time I got to the University of Chicago, where there were student radicals, I had been in the Marine Corps, an organization well known for teaching the reality principle to its recruits; and the Chicago school of free market economists educated me out of my dreams of socialism. I was fortunate; the Sixties generation was not.

We’ve got spirit, how ’bout you?

Jay Rosen is reading about and hearing from all the activists gearing up to spend big money on the upcoming battle over Supreme Court nominees and doesn’t know what it is good for.

In the last election, 121 million votes were cast, and each one of those people could (in theory) be influenced by a media campaign. On the coming nomination, 100 United States Senators vote. Can they be influenced in the same way? The press is saying: yeah, they can. But it cannot be so.

It’s a good point in so far as groups on both sides pouring money into television commercials and other events should have little direct effect on the votes of 100 senators. Of course, it’s not about influencing voters but about rallying the faithful. This is going to be the Super Bowl of politics this year and what’s a big game without cheerleaders and rowdy fans to inspire their team and intimidate the opposition? The back-and-forth is merely the political version of the old “We’ve got spirit, yes we do, we’ve got spirit how ’bout you?” chant. Even though the Dems and their fanatics will – like the old AFL in the pre-merger Super Bowls – be trying to show they’re relevant, they have to feel encouraged that some Republicans have shown themselves to be easily intimidated.

Therefore the orchestrated cheering has already begun, and from the Left I hear chestnuts such as:

Here we go, Moonbats, here we go!

Babies don’t vote! Babies don’t vote!

2-4-6-8 – who’s character do we assassinate?

Filibuster! Filibuster! Don’t invoke cloture! We’ve got war, for the culture!

Ree, ree, ree, attack the nominee!
Ras, ras, ras, our thumb is in our …

Even though President Bush has suggested that we all play nice, I wouldn’t mind some New York-style hazing, ala the Daryl Strawberry era, when Chuck Schumer gets up to flap his gums. Can’t you just hear the crowd sing-songing, “Schooo-merrr! Schooo-merrr!” Or how about these cheers and chants from the Right:

Hey-hey, ho-ho, reconstructionists got to go!

Teddy, Teddy, he’s all wet!

Elections have consequences! Elections have consequences!

Give me another S! Give me another C! Give me another A! Give me another L! Give me another I! Give me another A! What’s that spell!

And could it be any sweeter when it’s all over than for the Righties to taunt the Left with “Here comes the judge! Here comes the judge!”?

Of course, the insiders refer to all of this as “activating the base,” which really means “getting the base to cough up even more money.” After all, what’s a Super Bowl without commercials?

Of hidden standards and agendas

Two of the most recent Supreme Court decisions appear to be on unrelated subjects but I think there is a common theme. In going halfsies on the two Ten Commandment cases before them the court essentially said that displaying the Ten Commandments in or around government buildings was okay as long as they could be considered as historical artifacts and not as something the government says you should live by.

And in their emminent domain-related Kelo decision the court said the same thing about the U.S. Constitution.

There has been a lot of great writing on other blogs about these decisions already, especially on Kelo, and I don’t have much to add in terms of ramifications and analyses. I do have a couple of observations on what I see as the underlying issue before us, however. (If you want ramifications and analyses, I especially liked these postings from Sprucegoose and from Craig Westover.)

Both the Constitution and the Ten Commandments have similar objectives: both set out how we should relate to one another, while the Commandments described how we should relate to God and the Constitution laid out how our government should relate to us. Part of the idea was that following the principles in each would result in a happier, more peaceful and more prosperous life, and that by putting these principles in writing we could hope to avoid large scale abuses of individuals tring to shade these for their own advantage.

Aside from prohibitions on killing, stealing, perjury and the occasional Sunday blue law that may be in effect in some areas, there aren’t a lot of laws on the books enforcing the Commandments. That’s not to say that putting some teeth into the “honoring your father and mother” line wouldn’t be generally beneficial to society. Enforcing that part about “not coveting” however would probably cripple the economy. Still, their presence in the public square and in our awareness established that – however unattainable – there is a standard of right and wrong to aspire that goes beyone legal and illegal. In my opinion, those who find the Commandments offensive are offended more by the suggestion that there should be such a standard of behavior (other than their own) than by the mention of God.

The Constitution, on the other hand, has given birth to thousands of laws, each supposedly adhering to its standard to provide fair play in a world that becomes increasingly ingenious about playing unfairly.

Both the Commandments and the Constitution ultimately depend on an understanding that justice is available, consistent and to be expected. In their recent decisions the Supreme Court has chosen to hide one standard from sight while ignoring the other.