Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Identity Politics

The right wing talking points against Sonia Sotomayor seem to boil down to three main tags: she’s a radical liberal, she’s not that bright, and she was picked solely because she’s a Latina. Joan Walsh at Salon does a nice job of debunking all three of them, including the fact that if she wasn’t so smart, how did she end up as graduating summa cum laude at Princeton and editor of the Yale Law Journal? (Yale’s reputation may have suffered thanks to George W. Bush, but it’s still a major law school.) I don’t think that it’s a good idea for the Republicans to be questioning Ms. Sotomayor’s bona fides especially when they still have Harriet Miers on YouTube. No slight meant to Ms. Miers, but if they really thought — for three weeks — that she was the yardstick by which Supreme Court nominees should be measured, Ms. Sotomayor more than meets it without even taking off her coat. Being called an “intellectual lightweight” by the acolytes of Mr. Bush calls into question their grasp of irony.

The biggest issue that the right wing is wrestling with is the race/gender issue. Apparently they are concerned that because Ms. Sotomayor is female and Hispanic, that might have an “undue” influence on her decisions. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) summed it up:

Of primary concern to me is whether or not Judge Sotomayor follows the proper role of judges and refrains from legislating from the bench. Some of her recent comments on this matter have given me cause for great concern. In the months ahead, it will be important for those of us in the U.S. Senate to weigh her qualifications and character as well as her ability to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences.

This also seems to be a concern of George F. Will:

And like conventional liberals, she embraces identity politics, including the idea of categorical representation: A person is what his or her race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference is, and members of a particular category can be represented — understood, empathized with — only by persons of the same identity.

Oddly enough, I don’t remember either Mr. Inhofe or Mr. Will raising such a concern about Chief Justice John Roberts or Justice Samuel Alito and their white Catholic upbringing, or Justice Clarence Thomas and his hardscrabble upbringing in Georgia and affirmative action acceptance at Yale. The only “identity politics” that are acceptable are those that they can identify with and hence everyone on the Supreme Court should be a prissy white guy or an African-American who agrees with their political points of view. Every person sees the world through the lens of “what his or her race, ethnicity, gender, or sexual preference is.” What other way is there? Anyone who says they don’t is either a liar or a fool and has no business being in a position of power in our lives or our government.

The problem Mr. Inhofe and Mr. Will have with Ms. Sotomayor’s identity is that it doesn’t match theirs, and therefore must be suspect. That’s the one aspect of identity politics they seem to be unable to identify.