The limp legacy of the wet and weak

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - Opin­ion by Wes­ley Pru­den

Barack Obama’s legacy is com­ing sharply into fo­cus, four years early. He’s out to trans­form “a na­tion of laws,” once the pride of the An­glo-Saxon her­itage and ex­em­plar to the world, into “a na­tion of feel­ings.” We won’t need judges, just so­cial work­ers damp with em­pa­thy.

This is in line with the pres­i­dent’s larger vi­sion, to cut Amer­ica down to a size a com­mu­nity or­ga­nizer could man­age, mak­ing it merely one of the nice na­tions of the world, like Bel­gium or Brazil. The home of the brave and the land of the free would be­come what our English cousins call “wet,” weak, in­ef­fec­tual, frag­ile, fear­ful, and in­con­se­quen­tial.

So­nia So­tomayor is one of the build­ing blocks of the pres­i­dent’s en­vi­sioned Medi­ocre So­ci­ety. She’s a per­fect first nom­i­nee to the Supreme Court, “un­touch­able” for any­one who risks looking at who she re­ally is, a lawyer of good grades — she grad­u­ated summa cum laude from her uni­ver­sity and even won the class spell­ing bee in ele­men­tary school — but a lawyer of mod­est gifts, con­fi­dent of en­ti­tle­ment, and de­ter­mined to help the pres­i­dent ren­der Amer­ica harm­less, armed mostly with good in­ten­tions and at the mercy of rav­en­ous ri­vals. We may one day look back at her as the best of the worst.

The pres­i­dent is the mas­ter of de­mo­graphic pol­i­tics, play­ing the race card in a way that no one else could. Miss So­tomayor was pre­sented not first as a ju­rist dis­tin­guished by learn­ing and ac­com­plish­ment, but as a Latina, a woman of em­pa­thy and del­i­cate sen­si­bil­ity. He’s count­ing on male gal­lantry, if not male timid­ity, to carry the day. Robert Gibbs, the pres­i­dent’s press agent, was an un­apolo­getic in­tim­ida­tor, warn­ing every­one to be “ex­ceed­ingly care­ful” in talk­ing about her. Crit­i­cism of Miss So­tomayor is to be re­garded as proof of racism, sex­ism and maybe even fas­cism. Crit­i­cize the lit­tle lady at your own risk.

Miss So­tomayor her­self has played the game skill­fully. When, in­ter­view­ing for a job dur­ing her fi­nal year at law school, she was asked whether she thought she would have been ad­mit­ted to the pres­ti­gious school had she not been of Puerto Ri­can ex­trac­tion. It was a re­cruiter’s le­git­i­mately provoca­tive ques­tion, but she cried “racism!” and de­manded an apol­ogy. Her cre­den­tials were im­pres­sive enough to sug­gest that she could stand up to tough and even im­per­ti­nent ques­tions. Her pro­fes­sors could have used the in­ci­dent as a teach­ing mo­ment: learn to an­swer the tough ques­tions be­cause be­ing a lawyer means deal­ing with tough ques­tions. In­stead the pro­fes­sors, as if ea­ger to pro­tect a del­i­cate fem­i­nine psy­che, de­manded that the law firm send her a craven let­ter of apol­ogy.

Miss So­tomayor’s much re­marked as­ser­tion of her own racial su­pe­ri­or­ity — “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the rich­ness of her ex­pe­ri­ence would more of­ten than not reach a bet­ter con­clu­sion [as a judge] than a white male who hasn’t lived that life” — re­quires no apol­ogy to white males. It’s re­ward enough for “white males” to see her friends, beginning with her friends at the White House, wrig­gle and squirm as if they were sit­ting in wet skivvies. Such a bald lapse into racism — there’s noth­ing “re­verse” about it — can’t be de­fended and her de­fend­ers can only say she didn’t say what she said. The pres­i­dent’s press agent tried to re­write her, sub­sti­tut­ing “dif­fer­ent” for “bet­ter,” but even the docile White House re­porters scoffed: “She said ‘bet­ter.’ ”

The prospect is not that Repub­li­cans will be too tough, but not tough enough. Miss So­tomayor has a damn­ing pa­per trail, and the Repub­li­cans have a re­spon­si­bil­ity to ask vig­or­ous, even ro­bust, ques­tions. Mr. Obama has the votes to pre­vail no mat­ter how she an­swers the ques­tions, but the na­tion is en­ti­tled to know who the pres­i­dent puts on the na­tion’s high­est court.

Pres­i­dent Obama him­self leaves no one un­der any mis­un­der­stand­ing about how he in­tends to re­make Amer­ica. “It is ex­pe­ri­ence that can give a per­son a com­mon touch of com­pas­sion,” he said on in­tro­duc­ing So­nia So­tomayor, “an un­der­stand­ing of how the world works and how or­di­nary peo­ple live. And that is why it is a nec­es­sary in­gre­di­ent in the kind of jus­tice we need on the Supreme Court.” Not much there about the law and the Con­sti­tu­tion.

This is scary enough, but he told a Hol­ly­wood au­di­ence last week that “you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” The twin­klies sud­denly felt limp, wet and warm. Se­na­tors should rise above that, but a pru­dent man bets the other way.

Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor emer­i­tus of The Wash­ing­ton Times.

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