"the more important reason [for the uproar over appeals court nominees], I suspect, is that the interest groups that have mobilized over the judiciary find it very useful to broaden the battleground beyond the Supreme Court....
To maintain their supporters' interest -- and the flow of contributions that finance their staffs -- the interest groups need more fights. And that is what the regular turnover in the ranks of the appeals courts provides.
It matters not to these groups how much or how little the broad public knows of the records and personalities of these appointees. As long as activists can be convinced they are threats to the system -- or martyrs -- that will suffice."
I believe he was in error in not tracing the controversy back to Fortas (see this post) but otherwise is right on. Political rhetoric these days is devalued; issues which seem important lose their criticality when viewed over time and compared to the great issues of the past. (ed.: there speaks the disillusionment of the old). I saw a reference to "dog whistle" politics, that is issues directed towards the base that completely bypass the centrist voter. There's also a study that uses that logic to explain a rise in partisanship--parties are able to focus their message to their partisans, without losing the appeal to the center.