The Democrats did not filibuster Bork’s nomination — at the time, their numbers in the Senate were enough to secure their victory without a filibuster. But the course they set in those hearings — one of maximal confrontation, of reaching for whatever procedural cudgel is close at hand — led directly to our current state of governmental dysfunction. As always, judgment matters: One may appreciate that the existence of the filibuster is prudent and desirable without wishing to see it used on every potentially controversial nomination or piece of legislation. It is perfectly acceptable to believe that Robert Bork had the wrong idea about the Constitution, but it is another thing entirely to treat as a national crisis the fact that a judicial nominee has ideas at odds with Joe Biden’s ideas — or with Joe Biden’s ambitions.
The recently proffered Republican health-care bill instantiates much of what is wrong with our politics: The bill was constructed through an extraordinary process in which there were no hearings, no review from the Congressional Budget Office, and no final text of the legislation until shortly before the vote. The process is erratic and covert rather than regular and transparent. It was put together in a purposeful way to avoid substantive debate and meaningful public discourse, making the most of the majority’s procedural advantages for purely political ends. The Republicans are perfectly within their legal authority to proceed that way. But that’s no way to govern. We all know this. As Rod Dreher recently put it, Republicans will have to choose whether they love the rule of law more than they hate the Left. Democrats faced the same choice, once, and they chose poorly, having set upon a course of political totalism that has seen the weaponization of everything from the IRS to the state attorneys general. Republican populists who argue that the GOP must play by the same rules in the name of “winning” have very little understanding of what already has been lost and of what we as a nation stand to lose. The United States will not thrive, economically or otherwise, in a state of permanent emergency.