So the Bork hearing didn’t reverse a century of transparency in the process. But it certainly assured that no such transparency and candor would ever come again.
As the assault on Hagel continues, it’s worth repeating a point I made in a previous post, which is that the anti-Hagel crowd is currently behaving as overzealous activists do in response to Supreme Court nominations. We see the same resorting to character assassination, the same misrepresentation and distortion of the nominee’s views, and the same exaggeration of and emphasis on the nominee’s supposed ideological extremism that we would see in response to a judicial nominee perceived to be either very liberal or very conservative. The difference here is that Hagel’s critics are attempting to “Bork” him before he is even nominated. This a destructive campaign that, if successful, could do the damage to Cabinet nominations that the Bork hearings did to judicial nominations, and that could have have long-lasting detrimental effects on the selection of Cabinet appointees in the future.
As Cohen recounts, the Bork hearing had a chilling effect on what judges would be willing to say at their confirmation hearings:
Second, it changed (forever, I suspect) the way judicial confirmation hearings unfold, by encouraging earnest nominees to say to the Senate Judiciary Committee nothing at all candid, specific, or profound about their judicial philosophies or views of the law.
Assuming Hagel is nominated, it remains to be seen whether anyone in the Senate will want to continue the assault on him during his confirmation. If Hagel ends up not being the nominee after this smear campaign or if his nomination were defeated because of the smears, that will create the wrong incentives for potential appointees and ideological enforcers alike. Thwarting Hagel’s nomination will be a reward the heresy-hunters and it will serve as a warning to anyone else in public life that the limits of foreign policy debate are as narrow and stifling as ever. The result will be that there will be even more yes-men and even fewer independent minds serving in top positions in the government, and appointees will be even less forthcoming about their views than they already are.