Nocera’s tale of Robert Bork neglects Bork’s firing of Watergate prosecutor rather than resigning as others did

Over the weekend New York Times opinion columnist Joe Nocera went for a propaganda hat trick: At one time he tried to rewrite history, rehabilitate rightwing jurist Robert Bork and place blame for the politicizing of court confirmations on Democrats.

In his piece titled “The Ugliness Started With Bork,” Nocera says yesterday marked the 24th anniversary of the Senate turning down Bork’s nomination for the Supreme Court. Forgetting the earlier politically inspired rejections of Nixon-nominees Clement Haynsworth and Harold Carswell, Nocera writes that it was the Bork process that led to the politicizing of Supreme Court and other judicial confirmations in the U.S. Senate, as well as to the current coy practice of court nominees fudging about what their past record and political opinions are.

Nocera blames the Democrats for voting against Bork because they feared that with Bork on the bench, the Supremes would overturn Roe V. Wade, the landmark decision that affirmed that under the laws of the United States a woman has a legal right to have an abortion.

What Nocera never mentions is the outrage that the entire country felt over the nomination to the Supreme Court of the man who had implemented what is still called the “Saturday Night Massacre.”

Let’s take Mr. Peabody’s WABACK (pronounced way-back) machine to Saturday, October 20, 1973. Archibald Cox, President Richard Nixon’s special investigator into the Watergate break-in is about to release evidence that implicates all the President’s men.  Nixon asks the Attorney General and life-long Republican Elliot Richardson to fire Cox and Richardson
resigns instead.

Nixon then asks the Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, another rock of the Republican Party, to give Cox the axe.  Ruckelshaus also prefers to resign than commit this unethical act.

The next guy on the list is Solicitor General Robert Bork and Bork does it.  Bork fires Archibald Cox, setting the Watergate investigation back a few months, but more importantly symbolizing to the American people the enormous grasp at unlawful power that the Nixon Administration has taken with Watergate and the cover-up.

Some, including Bork himself, have justified the firing of Cox as legal and therefore permitted if requested by the Commander in Chief.  Let’s leave it to those attracted to discussing the number of angels fitting on a pinhead to determine if the act was technically legal.

The narrow issue of legality is moot: Everyone knew then and knows now that when Bork fired Cox he was taking part in a government cover-up of illegal activity.

The American public quickly came to regard Bork as a symbol of the Watergate cover-up, as much of a symbol as Ehrlichman, Haldeman, Dean and Hunt.

The Democrats voted against Bork because of his role in the Watergate scandal.  In writing that it was anything else, Nocera participates in the campaign to rehabilitate Bork that the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, The Times and other media have pursued for many decades now.  There is now a similar intermittent campaign for John Yoo, who wrote Bush II’s odious justification for torture: if the President orders it, it’s not illegal by definition.

Nocera’s conclusion is truly precious: “The next time a liberal asks why Republicans are so intransigent, you might suggest that the answer lies in the mirror.”

It’s sheer nonsense.  Republicans are intransigent because they realize that their political and economic stands benefit only a minority of the citizens of the United States.  Intransigence in Congress, like passing laws to limit voting, outright lying about facts and linking of economic positions that only benefit the wealthy to social issues such as abortion—these are merely the means by which these exponents of the ultra wealthy keep control.

Perhaps the next time Nocera looks in the mirror, this long-time distinguished reporter should ask himself how good he feels about revising history to rehabilitate one of the chief implementers of an illegal government cover-up, just so he can throw a stone at the Democrats.

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