The Corner

Is It Going to Be Race and Resentment — All the Time?

Michelle Obama is now weighing in on the Sotomayor nomination, and I think it will prove a serious political mistake, since she is reverting back to her “me too” campaign mode, in that she emphasizes both race and the anonymous “they” who are not nice or not sufficiently accommodating to the Other.

So Michelle Obama describes the fear that Sotomayor felt at Princeton — and its lasting effects to this day — and then compares it, of course, to Michelle’s own ambiguous feelings toward the same Princeton campus (cf. Michelle’s thesis for the details), that one is willing to put up with for the education and prestige it gave, but does not really like for the presence of apparently so many stuck-up, rich, preppy kids and their ubiquitous exclusive campus culture. 

Three or four observations:

  1. Many Americans were terrified about our first year in college. Some left farms for sophisticated urban environments and were lost; others were the first in their families to go to colleges, and so on. The Ivy League is by definition snobbish to all outside its traditional insular orbit, whether white, black, brown, country folk, foreigners, etc. But by predicating such common discomfort on their own race and gender, Ms. Obama and Judge Sotomayor deprecate a universal human experience, and instead claim it as something unique to identity politics;
  2. Once more we see the schizophrenia of affirmative action, diversity, and identify politics — the university is both obliged to select students on the basis, at least in part, of race, class, and gender, but then almost immediately faulted for a climate that, in the eye of the recipient, stigmatizes those to whom it gives unusual consideration (what is the answer? — no race/class/gender consideration at all?; constant race/class/gender consideration that begins at admission and continues through graduation?; damned if you do, damned if you don’t?);
  3. And the remedy for feeling separate at elite colleges is apparently to reemphasize separatism based on identification with the tribe (e.g., Justice Sotomayor’s senior thesis, like that once written by Ms. Obama, is predicated on ethnic and racial grievance).

All this should disturb Democrats because it fuels a general and growing perception (cf. Sotomayor’s white-male references, Eric Holder’s “cowards” remark, the serial Obama apologies abroad, the confusion about America being an important Muslim nation, etc.) among the public that something very strange is going on — a sort of generic anger being expressed at the highest levels of government that seems fueled by long past resentments against a perceived establishment that at times apparently is to roughly characterized as white, or white male, or rich, or Christian, or something other than poor, of color, or of female?

One would have thought with the presidency, or nomination to the Supreme Court, or with the office of Attorney General, or First Lady, such hurt feelings and old grievances might wane; but instead the resentment seems to be ubiquious, and growing, and the lectures will be with us for the next four years in almost every imaginable circumstance. If the administration is not careful, millions of Americans are going to begin feeling that they are caricatured pretty much as those once were in rural Pennsylvania.


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