The Corner

Something Is Not Quite Right Here . . .

Right-wing contrarians supposedly inflated Michelle Obama’s once-in-a-lifetime slip, “For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country,” until it turned out it was a sort of topos — cf. her second take: “For the first time in my adult lifetime, I am really proud of my country.”

It is eerie that we are following the same sort of narrative with Justice Sotomayor and her now serial refrain, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” The problem, of course, is that casual doctrinaire left-wing boilerplate, usually applauded among sympathetic audiences, does not play as well to the American public at large — and yet it is hard for such deeply ingrained habits and beliefs to be repressed and discounted, especially in the age of the internet trail.

I think Team Obama will have to retract any characterization that Sotomayor “misspoke,” given that she seemed to say it ad nauseam over the years — at some point how can one really suggest that she did not believe what she so often proclaimed?

Despite the solid credentials of Justice Sotomayor, and her winning personality, I still think all this is going to be a lot more serious than Obama thinks, since the president is essentially saying to the American people that their next Supreme Court justice on regular occasions, in print and before the public, has reiterated that race and gender make someone intrinsically a better or worse judge — precisely the opposite ideology from what Obama embraced in his hope-and-change, no-blue/no-red-state rhetoric. 

A disinterested observer would conclude that Justice Sotomayor is race-obsessed. In her now much quoted 2001 UC Berkeley speech she invoked “Latina/Latino” no less than 38 times, in addition to a variety of other racial-identifying synonyms. When one reads the speech over, the obsession with race become almost overwhelming, and I think the public has legitimate worries (more than the Obama threshold of 5% of cases) over whether a judge so cognizant of race could be race-blind in her decision making.

I would not wish to be a member of what she termed in the speech the “old-boy network” in a case in her chambers pitted against a self-identified “Latina.” Indeed, if one were to substitute the word “white” for “Latina” in the speech, it would be rightly derided as a classical display of racialist chauvinism.

Here is a sampling of the Latina evocations from this single, rather short speech. (The list of racial epithets could be expanded.)

“I warn Latinos in this room: Latinas are making a lot of progress in the old-boy network.”; ” . . .talk to you about my Latina identity”‘; “The story of that success is what made me and what makes me the Latina that I am.”; “The Latina side of my identity was forged and closely nurtured by my family through our shared experiences and traditions.”; “For me, a very special part of my being Latina is . . .”; “My Latina identity also includes . . . “;  ”Part of my Latina identity is . . . “; “My Latina soul was nourished . . .”; “Being a Latina child . . .”;  ”Now, does any one of these things make me a Latina?”; “Being a Latina in America . . . “;   “I would likely provide you with a very academic description of what being a Latino or Latina means. For example, I could define Latinos as those peoples . . .”;  ”I became a Latina by the way I love . . . ” ; “how wonderful and magical it is to have a Latina soul . . . “; “that struggle did not and does not create a Latina identity . . .”;  ”I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.”; “But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage . . .”;  ”I learn something new about the judicial process and  my deepest gratitude to all of you for listening and letting me share my reflections on being a Latina voice about being a professional Latina woman . . .” And on and on . . .

I think all this might create the sort of 5% doubt that led Senator Obama to attempt a filibuster against Justice Alito.


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