Didn't we all see this coming?

On Monday evening, I encouraged GOP opinion makers to "be lucid, rational, and polite." I exhorted us to "use this episode as a teaching moment" and implored our public figures to "avoid unhinged diatribes” and “outlandish horrors."

Wasted breath. Here we are: red-faced and frustrated, forced to walk back from a haphazard and mean-spirited frenzy of wild accusations against a woman who will surely be the first Hispanic female on the Supreme Court of the United States. And for what? Ironically, once installed, we will likely find Justice Sonia Sotomayor fairly forgettable and insignificant.

How did this happen?

We thought we were settling a score. We desperately wanted to give the Democrats a taste of their own medicine.

Did we have a point? Sure. For years, the opposition pursued a single-minded obsession to obstruct (and destroy) Republican judicial appointees. In fact, as a result of their unprecedented disregard for decorum and fair play demonstrated during the 1987 Robert Bork hearings, a new verb entered the political lexicon.

Am I talking about a few isolated wingnuts? Not really. Bork could not have been "borked," and Clarence Thomas could not have been "lynched," without the compliant leadership of Joe Biden. Fast-forward two decades: President Obama served in the Upper Chamber for only one year before he threw his hat in the ring for a bigger prize--but he was in Washington long enough to speak out and vote against two impeccably qualified conservative nominees for the Court.

Do the Democrats just have it in for dorky white guys? Not really. Ask Clarence Thomas how much the opposition cared about his American Dream. As many commentators have pointed out, we had an amazing Latino nominee of our own, whom the Democrats destroyed simply because they could.

But here is the difference: that was then; this is now.

We say: we are only playing by the rules the other team insisted upon. Look what they did to Miguel Estrada.

They say: huh? what? who?

It is pretty simple. The mainstream media often cheered on the vile attacks against Republican nominees. When they weren't piling on, they were giving the Democrats a pass on their worst excesses. Therefore, while you can drag up a few moldy news items, there is virtually no agreed-upon public memory of the despicable behavior conservatives remember so well. For most citizens, Ted Kennedy's notorious speech about "Robert Bork's America" is as distant and irrelevant as a Daniel Webster Fourth of July oration.

In essence, "we got punked." Without any context, the breathless and hastily constructed pursuit of Sotomayor appears completely lacking in civility (which it is). If viewed through the lens of our own trauma, our pathetic blindness might be more sympathetic—but so it goes. No matter, regardless of our continuing maltreatment at the hands our persecutors, remember that our attacks REALLY ARE way out of line. Even worse, our street-fight strategy represents a gutter level of discourse that we have properly railed against for decades now. We should live up to our own standards—not adopt those that we know to be unworthy. We REALLY ARE wrong to engage in this low-level character assassination.

So, in the end, regardless of who started it, our current behavior rightly engenders revulsion. While it may not seem fair in light of the recent past, in the sense that our conduct actually merits censure, we REALLY ARE reaping a just denunciation.

Live and learn.