The Blog

Lost in Translation

How the left's unsuccessful attempt to invoke the legal culture of the 1970s has led to an increasingly desperate effort to distort John Roberts's record.

12:00 AM, Aug 22, 2005 • By PAUL MIRENGOFF
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

THE SUCCESS OF THE REAGAN-ERA INSURGENTS is evident from the current reaction to the Reagan-era memos. Though Roberts's writings delight conservatives of a certain age and enrage leftists, they elicit yawns from just about everyone else. Despite breathless headlines from the Washington Post and doomsday pronouncements from used-up feminists and "civil rights" leaders, Roberts's derision of various liberal shibboleths has thus far failed to arouse the passions even of a critical mass of Democratic senators, much less the public. The unwillingness of the body politic to salute the anthems of the '70s left must be a painful experience for aging liberals--sort of like trying to explain to one's children why Easy Rider was a peak cinematic experience.

The left does not react well to sobering lessons of this kind. Hence, the final (though hardly unalloyed) pleasure conferred by the Roberts memo coverage: the left's self-destructive response to the public's common sense. When Roberts's own conservative words on the subject of abortion failed to stir any semblance of a backlash, the pro-abortion forces decided to "translate" them, reinventing Roberts as a supporter of violence against abortion clinics. The result? A deplorable NARAL ad attempting to associate Roberts with the bombing of an Alabama abortion clinic. The ad distorted Roberts's record in every particular. Ultimately, under pressure from more scrupulous abortion supporters, NARAL withdrew it.

Before long, though, the left was back to its old tricks. Next up was a translation of Roberts's condemnation of the theory of "comparable worth"--which would have allowed judges or bureaucrats to set pay rates based on a finding that, for example, the work of female file clerks is "worth" as much as male truck drivers--into opposition to equal pay for equal work. Indeed, this act of mistranslation has been the work not only of far-left advocacy groups, but also of mainstream media outlets such as USA Today, the Washington Post, and (almost inevitably) National Public Radio. However, as Michael Barone, among many others, has explained, the essentially socialist approach of government dictated wage rates based on comparisons of "apples to oranges" job bears virtually no relation to the well-accepted doctrine of paying male and female employees equally for equal work. Indeed, the Clinton administration rejected the comparable worth doctrine as roundly as the Reagan administration had.

The left's almost daily cry of wolf in response to the memo excerpts makes it increasingly uncomfortable (and, one hopes, difficult) for Democratic Senators to continue to dance to the outdated tunes of groups like NARAL, NOW, and People for the American Way. The mainstream revolutionaries of the early Reagan years helped create the conditions that brought this transformation about. Yet, as much success as they had in reshaping the legal culture, they largely failed to reshape the Supreme Court. With the first nomination of a member of that vanguard as the replacement for the first justice selected on its watch, we now may finally be on the road to accomplishing this most important component of that vanguard's mission.

Paul Mirengoff is a contributing writer to The Daily Standard and a contributor to the blog Power Line.