Wednesday, December 19, 2012

IT OFFENDS PEOPLE: I don't mean to step on TPE's post about Bork, but many of us who both write on and read this blog are alumni of the University of Chicago law school, and Bork was both an alumnus and a participant in some important parts of the school's history, and -- without touching on any of the stuff that would require invocation of The Rule -- I wanted to add two additional thoughts:

On Bork as a young man:  Abner Mikva, who taught at the the U of C at the same time that many of us were enrolled there, was a law school classmate and long-time close friend of Bork despite their divergent political views, and he told many fond stories of Bork (including that, in preparation for Bork’s confirmation process, Mikva had advised Bork to “Get rid of the beard – it offends people”).  My favorite was from the famed antitrust class that (future Attorney General) Edward Levi taught for four days a week and seminal U of C economist Aaron Director untaught on the fifth day.  One day, Director made the argument that rent-control laws were bad because they ended up pricing the people they were supposed to help out of the market in the first place, so those laws should never be enacted.  At the end of class, Bork rushed to the lectern, and asked, breathlessly (as Mikva tells it), “but what about the poor widows?  Would you get rid of the rent control laws and put them out on the street?”  “Young man,” Director reportedly replied, “I said you should never enact rent control laws. I didn’t say anything about getting rid of them.”  When I heard the story, Mikva added, with a chuckle, “Bork, he was the biggest bleeding-heart liberal of us all.”* 

On Bork as a writer:  In law school, one of my favorite things about law books was their comprehensive and effusive acknowledgements sections.  The double-acknowledgements section in my version of Bork’s The Antitrust Paradox, which reprinted the original acknowledgements and then added a second acknowledgements section for the anniversary edition, was, to my mind, the pinnacle of this art.  It had a beginning and an ending (if no middle) and told a tale that included friendship, camaraderie, conflict (regarding the reaction to the original publication of the book), triumph, and actual unexpected heartbreak (the death of Bork’s wife).  It was a short thank-you note with all the flavors of a decent novel.  Whatever else one thinks about Bork, and people have certainly thought about him a lot, that acknowledgements section framed him for me in a light in which I think most people (other than Mikva) usually didn’t see him.

*I cannot vouch either for the accuracy of the story as originally told to me or for the accuracy of my recollection of the story.  It was a long time ago. 


  1. Marsha3:23 PM

    I had often heard - and been confused by - the fact that Bork and Mikva were law school classmates, as Mikva is '51 and Bork is '53. While researching the obit today, I discovered that they, in fact, started school together in '48, but Bork got called up by the Marines and he left for two years after their 2L year, returning to graduate in '53. Mystery solved.

    Thanks for the stories, Isaac. I'll have to go find those acknowledgements.

  2. The Pathetic Earthling4:22 PM

    I do recall the bit in Tempting of America where Bork relayed that people would come up to him and thank him for talking more openly about using condoms confusing him, apparently, with C. Everett Koop.

  3. isaac_spaceman4:43 PM

    How could people confuse them? Sure, the beard, but the most distinctive thing about Koop was the fact that he started the ridiculous tradition of the Surgeon General wearing the uniform of an actual general.

  4. Surgeon General Koop revived the tradition of wearing the ceremonial uniform on a regular (non-ceremonial) basis, which is arguably silly. But the head of the Public Health Service, along with everyone one of the Public Health Service's commissioned officers, always has and will wear dress blues for formal occasions. They also all get saluted by enlisted military personnel, have DOD-style decals on their windshield, get into O-clubs, have comparable diplomatic standing, and are treated like military officers in most contexts. Same thing with the NOAA.

  5. The Pathetic Earthling6:15 PM

    If people were confused by the beard alone I think it's plausible they wouldn't be disabused of that confusion by the lack of insignia.

  6. And one could certainly argue that considering the staggering level of their responsibilities, they deserve it.

  7. isaac_spaceman12:39 PM

    Not everybody with a lot of responsibility (even in the government) should be treated as a military officer. I don't think people who are not in the military should bear military rank or wear military uniforms. If you were at no point a lieutenant, you should not ever become a general. And I don't think the Secretary of State or the chief of the FBI or the White House Chief of Staff -- all people who have responsibilities greater than that of the Surgeon General -- should get to wear uniforms either. If you're a civilian in a civilian post, wear civvies.

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