Biden, Bork, a Benevolent God – and the promise to Solomon
Published: December 15th, 2020
This is adapted and updated from a November 2020 Facebook post.
Oklahoma City – Robert Bork was the greatest man I’ve ever known.
Not the sweetest or the most gentle in demeanor, but the greatest.
His was the nearest modern American mind to the brilliance of James Madison, key architect of the United States Constitution. Some believe that America’s long-beleaguered recipe for limited government, economic liberty and a democratic Republic may see its final days in the four to eight years ahead.
After President Ronald Reagan nominated Judge Bork to the nation’s highest court in 1987, U.S. Senators Joe Biden of Delaware and Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts presided over a parody of the traditional Senate confirmation process for Supreme Court nominees.
Their efforts had the effects of both defeating Bork’s confirmation and unjustly sullying his reputation in the eyes of many Americans who knew and still know little or nothing about the human being and the constitutional servant: Robert Heron Bork.
Later, in 1991, Joe Biden was complicit in the attempt to destroy both the confirmation prospects and the reputation of then-Judge Clarence Thomas, who had become my friend after we first met in 1980.
Thomas is currently the senior member of the U.S. Supreme Court. It is a source of comfort that Biden and his allies failed to defeat President George Herbert Walker Bush’s nomination of Thomas to the High Court.
In November, Oklahoma City arts leader Don Jordan, founding artistic director for the Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, shared on my Facebook scroll a glowing tribute to Biden from Jon Meacham, a historian of some note.
Soon after the recent presidential election, Meacham said:
“Joe Biden is among the most empathetic men I’ve ever met, much less public figures. In that, he’s in the tradition of George Herbert Walker Bush. They both have a personal capacity to put themselves in the other person’s shoes. That is a personal virtue; it is also going to be a political virtue that will benefit this country for at least four years to come – and possibly far beyond.
“Because the deficit of decency, the deficit of hope, the ascendence of fear, the ascendence of selfishness that we have seen in this country will not totally end with any single election, but a single election can surely help, and what was on the ballot here was decency and democracy and empathy, and Joe Biden is particularly well equipped for this moment.
“He is not perfect. He’d be the last person on the planet to tell you he was perfect. There are vices, but there are virtues here. They are deeply human virtues, they are deeply American virtues, and I think it’s wonderfully poetic that it was Pennsylvania that has ended what President [Gerald] Ford, in another context, called ‘our long national nightmare.’
“Because it was in Philadelphia that, as Benjamin Franklin left the Constitutional Convention in that fabled story, an important woman in Philadelphia said, ‘What will it be, Mr. Franklin? Have you given us a republic or a monarchy?’ And he said, ‘A republic, madam, if you can keep it.’ The republic is being kept today.”
My personal assessment of Joe Biden — who I watched closely during my decade working in the nation’s capital — does not match the fondness that historian Meacham, Oklahoma arts leader Jordan and others have for the former senator and former vice president.
First, I see Biden and his brand of politics magnified as a strain of the vices that many in power acquire over time. From frequent use, without attribution, of words crafted by others, to the Janus-like patterns of his long career, I of course affirm there is merit to my low opinion of Joe Biden, the man.
Second, as a man accustomed to the vagaries of people and policies, I sketch here the things I can say positively concerning shreds of consistency in the politician known as former Vice President Joe Biden.
This focus is on his views of certain issues:
Biden has remained a defender of the Republic of China (on Taiwan) and a supporter of Israel during years when many in the Democratic party have come to despise the nation of Israel and to treat Taiwan (the nation that is successor to the Chinese Revolution of 1912) as an afterthought, at best, or a nuisance, at worse.
At the moment, the above is almost all I can say positively about one of the longest-serving elected officials in American history.
Joe Biden first won elections as a pro-life moderate Democrat with culturally conservative views, and as a defender of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Biden is none of that now, having long since abandoned his once-upon-a-time professed empathy for unborn human life – in earlier years leading him to craft something known as the “Biden Amendment”. Last year Biden jettisoned any lingering semblance of his earlier views. His intentions on the right to keep and bear arms have been widely reported, and are likely to become clearer in his first wave of executive orders.
Third, I submit one more hopeful observation, concerning that decade where I closelly watched Biden’s personnel policies. During my years in the nation’s capital, I clashed vigorously with members of Biden’s staff on a range of issues. However, I found them, by and large and on the whole, to be persons with whom I could have rational conversations and even engage in some deliberative processes.
One such fellow, Mark Gittenstein, even became a friend – some might say a ‘frenemy’ – in the years after that dreadful fight over Bork’s nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court.
When writing his own memoir/history of the Bork fight, Gittenstein called and asked to come visit for a conversation about his recounting of the most consequential domestic policy confrontation of the Reagan presidency.
It turned into a rather lengthy exchange. After that mutually productive conversation. I made a decision that, in current contexts, would seem absurd: I asked Mark if he would like to have a copy of my own manuscript for “Ninth Justice: The Fight for Bork.”
From the recesses of my ever-hopeful heart, a whisper suggested that was my best (and efficient) way to advance some degree of fairness … to share in detail my side of the story.
He accepted the offer.
Gittenstein employed my material in his book “Matters of Principle.” In his own way, Gittenstein’s book was what I hoped for, so I reviewed it favorably, at a time his work had a number of negative reviews from elements of the American Left.
It has been long years since last we spoke, but that’s the way it was, only three decades ago. In those days, relations between Americans of differing views were – or at least could be – different than today. It was a time when two senators could clash profoundly but still share a hand-shake, a hug, a pat on the back, a cordial smile or the equivalent of a ‘fist-bump’ without setting many tongues a-wagging.
Jane Alexander could forge a friendship with Jesse Helms, Ronald Reagan could regularly raise money for the JFK library, and have a drink with Tip O’Neill.
Speaker O’Neill could pray with all his heart for President Reagan to survive in the hours after the 1981 assassination attempt.
My friend and employer Paul Weyrich could have decades-long relationships of mutual respect with Senators Paul Simon of Illinois and Paul Tsongas of Massachusetts, and bequeath those cordial links to me.
Another time, I know it will be right – perhaps even tomorrow? – to continue critical analyses of Joe Biden the man, and the politician.
But last night, I prayed for Biden, for Donald Trump, and for those who work for each.
America needs healing. It has needed healing since long before the Bork fight, and before 2020. I do not expect it or predict it, but I hope and pray for it.
In the still of a cold Oklahoma night, I disciplined my unbelief, that instinctive snort that popped out when, some days ago, Biden spoke of “unity” and I heard “surrender.”
I choose to remember and affirm words rooted in history. They were a promise to Solomon the wise – a verse that has always raised my hopes, in even the darkest times.
For myself, my family, my friends, my foes, the current president and the next president, I petitioned the Maker of all things. Today, I implore this great land and its many peoples to heed anew His wisdom, His compassion, His forbearance.
From God’s word, Second Chronicles, chapter 7, verse 14:
“[I]f then my people, upon whom my name has been pronounced, humble themselves and pray, and seek my face and turn from their evil ways, I will hear them from heaven and pardon their sins and heal their land.” (New American Bible)
NOTE: Pat McGuigan is author (with Dawn M. Weyrich) of ‘Ninth Justice: The Fight for Bork.’ He is the founder of CapitolBeatOK.com, an online news service based in Oklahoma City, and publisher of The City Sentinel newspaper.