Over at the Weekly Standard, Bill Kristol has a great post comparing the way then-Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his fellow Democrats in 1987 demonized Robert Bork, President Reagan’s supremely qualified nominee for the Supreme Court, to how President Obama and his minions are attempting to demonize House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan and his plan to control federal spending and reduce the deficit:
The fear-mongering worked in 1987. Robert Bork, one of the great lawyers of our time, playing by the then-customary rules of Supreme Court nominations, didn’t feel he could defend himself, and wasn’t aggressively defended by his political allies. But even though Bork’s nomination was defeated, Kennedy’s assault didn’t work in a larger sense—George H.W. Bush won the presidency in 1988, Newt Gingrich became speaker in 1995, and conservatives did pretty well politically for most of the rest of Edward Kennedy’s life.
One reason Democrats won’t succeed today as readily as they did twenty-four years ago is because of the on expression I highlighted above: “the then-customary rules”. Republicans know that the playbook has long since been altered. This year, they won’t be caught unaware by Democratic efforts to misrepresent and vilify. There is a vast array of conservative organizations willing to raise money, produce and broadcast adds countering Democratic distortions.
Another reason is aesthetics. With his scraggly beard, unkempt hair, and haughty demeanor, Judge Bork looked like he just walked from an audition for the role of Moby Dick‘s cantankerous Captain Ahab. He had spent too many months at sea, away from the manners and mores of the more earthbound landlubbers.
Not so, the neatly groomed, nattily attired and clean-shaven Wisconsin Republican. He had not overstayed his welcome in the secluded groves of academe and facing election every two years, had practice in communicating with the average American.