Corn, Feinstein, and the E-word
Back at the beginning of July, shortly after Justice O'Connor's retirement was announced and before John Roberts was nominated to replace her, The Nation's David Corn warned his fellow Leftists that, this time around, Borking might backfire:
The "extremist" strategy, I fear, is worn out and ineffective. It worked for Robert Bork, thanks to his too-honest writings and wacky beard. But most of the far-right jurists on the list of potential nominees will be able to appear before a Senate committee, not drool, answer questions about their opinions politely, and come across as intelligent and somewhat reasonable people, not extremist monsters plotting to lead America into a Time of Darkness. So progressives, beware, the E-word is probably not your friend.
Corn was right. NARAL's television ad that claimed Roberts was an extremist was a fiasco, and limited the remaining options of his opponents, forcing them to moderate their own rhetoric precisely when they wanted to turn up the volume. During the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, pro-abort Senator Diane Feinstein quizzed Roberts on right-to-die cases, asking him to reply not as a jurist but "as a son, a husband and a father." Tell us what you feel.
Feinstein took a lot of conservative abuse for that ploy, all of it deserved. But it wasn't a foolish gambit. Had she been truly interested in examining Roberts's qualifications for the job, it would have been imbecilic to address him as if she were hiring a babysitter. Her aim, however, was to precipitate a massive change in public opinion regarding Roberts, especially among the politically squishy voters in the middle. Getting him to talk law wasn't the way to do that. Granted, it was a long shot -- for the reasons Corn predicted -- but had Feinstein pushed Roberts into making some verbal blunder on an emotionally explosive issue, she might have scored and come up with something the media could run with.
The next nominee will have the advantage that much of the scare-language used by NOW and NARAL against Roberts will inevitably be repeated and will have lost some of its sting: " ...and this time we really mean it!" On other hand, almost any likely candidate will have writings more easily targeted than Roberts's. Feinstein and friends will have another crack at the babysitter interview, hoping to spill the volume of blood that will attract the right sharks. Perhaps this time they'll succeed.
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