OUR BELOVED columnist George Will has finally met the enemy, and it is us. In a steamy piece on the opposite page today, Mr. Will takes on our editorial opposing the elevation of Judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. He attacks us without mercy. This is, of course, as it should be, mercy being yet another of those wobbly concepts -- like compassion, caring and God knows what all else -- that liberals will run on about.
Our sin in Mr. Will's eyes is the same one we committed in the eyes of Judge Bork's most committed opponents: a failure of wholeheartedness. We denounced the opponents -- or some of them -- for what we continue to believe was one of the ugliest campaigns on record to block a nomination, a campaign based in part on deliberate distortion and reeking of a kind of intellectual fear and intolerance that both mocked and stripped away its claims to virtue -- but then we joined in opposing Judge Bork's confirmation. We found great merit in much of what Judge Bork has written and said over his career, above all some of the very critiques of revered decisions for which he paid most dearly in the confirmation process, and his view that too often modern judges have let their preferences rather than the law guide their decisions. Yet in the end we backed away from the nomination because it was not clear to us that Judge Bork would ever let broader considerations of justice guide him as he handed down opinions, because of a belief, of which he never chose to disabuse the inquiring committee, that even on the great occasions he would dole out justice about as a pharmacist dispenses pills.
So Mr. Will, who himself seems to favor this pharmaceutical school of judging, has indeed found us out. We were ambivalent. Nor do we hang our heads for that. It seems to us that no one of independent mind could have watched Judge Bork's long week of absorbing testimony and not be. Only lobbyists could do that, the tin tongues of the right and left. The great virtue of conservatives -- indeed of Mr. Will when he is not so disappointed and is at his best -- is their comfort with ambiguity, which they recognize as part of truth. Here Mr. Will opts for doctrine instead.
We do not "license judges to supply justice, according to their lights, when law is" by our standards "inadequate." But neither do we believe, nor does anyone with even minimal knowledge in these affairs, that the answers to the difficult questions that rise to the highest courts leap off the printed page. We say again: a judge is not a pharmacist filling a prescription. He judges; he brings values to bear.
That's why we did need a sign, just as our columnist has charged, that on some of the great questions concerning race, free speech, fair representation and privacy, Judge Bork seemed to care -- that is, that somewhere along the line in his extended and highly articulate legal career he had given evidence that he thought the outcome of his reasoning at least mattered. He didn't give it. Mr. Will -- a little priggishly, we thought -- was pleased to call this standard one of "moral exhibitionism." That, too, is fine with us. We do indeed believe that there are issues and occasions on which a judge should show a little leg.