The popular campaign waged over the summer of 1987 to defeat Robert Bork's nomination to the Supreme Court was likened by some observers to a Neo-McCarthy witch hunt; others called it a clear example of grassroots democracy in action. The actual Senate rejection of Reagan's nominee, Michael Pertschuk and Wendy Schaetzel contend, was far less controversial than the "Block Bork" campaign, which transformed what might otherwise have been a rubber-stamp appointment into a national issue. "The People Rising" is the story of that campaign, and an engrossing story it is.
Basing their account on interviews with about 70 campaign organizers, the authors describe the formation of the umbrella coalition that brought together national groups with no previous history of cooperation. The first meetings occurred only days after Justice Lewis Powell's resignation; eventually more than 300 national groups would be involved. Through the "inside campaign" (lobbying by Washington veterans) and the "outside campaign" (the work of local grassroots organizers), the "Book of Bork" strategy was implemented. Bork's opponents reasoned that the more familiar politicians, the media and voters were with the nominee's own stated views, the more they would recognize his danger. The strategy was extremely effective. Arkansas senator David Pryor was perplexed by the deep division on the Bork issue among his constituents; he observed (the authors report) that the dividing line was that "Bork's opponents knew why they opposed him."