AUSTIN, Texas -- Oh, dear. The Borking of Linda Chavez is leading to another round of sulking, hurt feelings and general acrimony, making the upcoming fight over the confirmation of Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft even more festive.

Now everybody's prepared to nurse grudges and hug hurt feelings. The nice thing about dealing with real 5-year-olds is that they're easily distracted and get over their tantrums quickly.

The Chavez situation was simply hopeless, and the first people to realize it were the Bushies, who dropped her like a hot rock. I'm perfectly prepared to believe that Chavez took an illegal immigrant from Guatemala into her home out of the kindness of her heart and paid her a little for housework out of kindness, as well. The trouble is, that's illegal.

Chavez herself is on the record as saying that Zoe Baird was guilty of "harboring an illegal alien" and therefore could not serve in the Cabinet.

There was just no way around it: Chavez's nomination was doomed by what might in fact have been an act of kindness. Makes you think there might be something wrong with that law, doesn't it?

The irony of people getting Borked for the wrong reasons -- Chavez's record on labor issues is so bad that the appointment was a calculated insult to the unions -- goes back to Judge Robert Bork himself.

Bork may well have been vilified for the wrong reasons, but anyone who read his last book, which I found both ugly and intemperate, can only be grateful that he's not on the Supreme Court. That doesn't mean that the fool reporter who printed the list of the movies that Bork had rented from the video store had any business doing so.

What difference would it make if the man watched nothing but Flintstones cartoons? Bork remains a martyred victim in the eyes of the right wing and a sainted synonym for a splendid fellow brought low by pickers of irrelevant nits. I think he's demonstrably unfit for judicial office.

There's a splendid new Washington potboiler out by Richard North Patterson called "Protect and Defend," in which the plot revolves around the confirmation of a Supreme Court nominee. You'll be happy to know that all the media people in the book are moral sewers. It's not only a terrific read but also a thoughtful look at how ugly this process has become.

Which brings us back to John Ashcroft, himself a nasty Borker.

Upon hearing that Ashcroft was on record praising Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee, my reaction was, "Good for him." If you can't admire Lee and Jackson, there's something wrong with you.

On the other hand, it turns out that's not quite what the deal was. Ashcroft was interviewed two years ago by Southern Partisan magazine, which the New Republic calls "a leading journal of the neo-Confederacy movement" and "a gumbo of racist apologias."

Ashcroft praised the magazine, saying that it "helps set the record straight. You've got a heritage of doing that, of defending Southern patriots like Lee, Jackson and (Jefferson) Davis. Traditionalists must do more. I've got to do more. We've all got to stand up and speak in that respect or else we'll be taught that these people were giving their lives, subscribing their sacred fortunes and their honor to some perverted agenda." Ooops.

OK, if you were raised in the South before 1960, you were probably taught that the War Between the States was over states' rights, but most of us have managed to learn that this is a load of hooey.

There are some historians who favor an economic interpretation of the war -- manufacturing vs. agriculture -- but most agree that the proximate cause of the Civil War was, in fact, slavery.

I knew many older people during the civil rights movement for whom Lee and Jackson (though not Davis, who was not popular in the South) were shining heroes, as William Wallace is to the Scots.

I remember Arch Fullingim, the wonderful East Texas newspaperman, writing about "the slow, hurtful realization" that all his heroes had performed their great deeds in defense of an immoral cause.

It's quite possible to be heroic but wrong. Most of us have managed to make our peace with that; why in the name of heaven would any politician go stirring up all that old garbage?

Turns out he wanted to run for president and was looking for an edge in the Southern primaries. That's disgusting.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in Ashcroft's home state, urged the Senate to "investigate Mr. Ashcroft's opposition to civil rights, women's rights, abortion rights and to judicial nominees with whom he disagrees." It further observed, "Mr. Ashcroft has built a career out of opposing school desegregation in St. Louis and opposing African-Americans for public office."

This brings us to Ashcroft's memorably nasty Borking of a black judge named Ronnie White. In a truly cruel and dishonest campaign, Ashcroft went after White, calling him "pro-criminal" and anti-death-penalty, even though White had quite a conservative juridical record.

So this brings us to the "he hit me first" school of counter-Borking, in which Ashcroft is going to get Borked because he Borked. If all of this depresses and confuses you, you might want to try considering Ashcroft's record on women, which is so grim that it calls for another column.

Molly Ivins is a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. To find out more about Molly Ivins and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at COPYRIGHT 2001 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.