Bobo’s Bronx Cheer for Ms. Sotomayor
A stopped clock is correct twice a day, David Brooks rather less often. Today, he comes out in favor of Ms. Sotomayor’s nomination to the Supreme Court. But being a New Yorker (though born in Toronto), he has to give her a Bronx salute before he can say so. The form it takes is not the usual raised middle finger. Instead he comes to bury, not to praise, her ethnicity and gender.
If she were older, he argues, she would have assimilated (like award-winning singer, actor and dancer Rita Moreno (Rosita Dolores Alverío), a specific example Bobo avoids), and her ethnicity would have been irrelevant. If she were younger, had she gone to Princeton and Yale in the 1980’s, "her ethnicity and gender would have been mildly interesting", but of no importance (like Michelle Malkin or Rachel Paulose). How Bobo comes to that imaginary conclusion, he doesn’t say.
Not unlike a Dickens’ character, Ms. Sotomayor was born neither early nor late: she was born when she was born.
These were the days when what we now call multiculturalism was just coming into its own. These were the days when the whole race, class and gender academic-industrial complex [sic] seemed fresh, exciting and just.
There was no way she was going to get out of that unscarred.
Her gender and ethnicity are entirely relevant, but not in the passive, sexless, deracinated way Bobo would prefer. Ms. Sotomayor didn’t discard her past, like a thick accent, or become forced into a stereotyped supporting role. She wasn’t simply a beneficiary of change. She made it, slowly, carefully, for herself and those immediately around her. (Slow and careful are the parts Bobo admires.) As a prosecutor and judge for more than two decades, that includes the public, the rich and poor, the well-represented and the legally destitute, who appeared with in her court.
As a rich white man writing for other rich white men, Bobo doesn’t much care for change. He likes things the way they are. He is about as uncomfortable with change as Mr. Obama is with controversy. It is Ms. Sotomayor’s willingness carefully to speak out, to articulate concerns that should be addressed by an informed community, that makes her a "radical", but a restrained one the Right can accept:
[S]he has given a series of speeches that have made her a poster child for identity politics.
For Bobo, anything other than falling in with the crowd – changing one’s name and identity to suit the majority white’s expectations or not having to, because your peers no longer care – is "radical". It’s an attitude that corporate ownership has made the norm among "journalists". Little wonder that Bobo wrote for the Wall Street Journal yesterday and the New York Times today.
What does excite Bobo about Ms. Sotomayor is that she’s an incrementalist, a judicial minimalist, who worked her way up from the streets, like a private who made general.
More than any current member of the Supreme Court, she worked her way up through the furnace levels of the American legal system. And when she reached a position of authority, she did not turn herself into an Al Sharpton in robes.
She is quite liberal. But there’s little evidence that she is motivated by racialist thinking or an activist attitude.
That used to be the kind of sentiment we lauded. But in those who speak with a Wall Street Journal twang, it rings hollow, like an echo of the company propaganda that once claimed that "employees are our most valuable asset."
Bobo is a great hater of technocrats, highly competent bureaucrats who create, implement and run government programs. (When they walk through the revolving door into the arms of corporate America, they are "responsible change agents".) So he damns with faint praise when he describes her opinions as,
the products of a clear and honest if unimaginative mind. She sticks close to precedent and the details of a case. There’s no personal flavor (in the boring parts one wishes there were). There’s no evidence of a grand ideological style or even much intellectual ambition. If you had to pick a word to describe them, it would be “restraint.”
He may have gone to Chicago, but Mr. Brooks knows how to sling a Harvard faculty club put down. If Ms. Sotomayor were a neocon, "restraint" would be a lost opportunity. In the hands of Dick Cheney, it’s an epithet, like "law abiding".
David Brooks is telling rich white men they can let go of their balls. They can take off the overstuffed metal codpiece borrowed from Mr. Bush. Ms. Sotomayor is not interested in cutting them off. She may not religiously rule in favor of government or private executives, like the Supreme Court’s current conservative brethren, but she doesn’t tilt at social wind mills or contest the powers that be without clear precedent in her favor. She’s the best the Right could hope for, so it should be thankful Mr. Obama agrees with them on where they moved the "center".