Posted by: mutantpoodle | May 30, 2009

Out of the Doldrums

Cartoon by Drew Sheneman, Newark Star-Ledger

Cartoon by Drew Sheneman, Newark Star-Ledger

Well, it’s been a while. Part of my recent absence I can blame on a crazy schedule – but that was just the start of it. I’ve also gotten a little addicted to twitter (more on that later), but mostly, I didn’t really have anything to say.

I wasn’t sure why, but then Steve Benen noted that a Daily Show takedown of the GOP’s silliness on Guantanamo was very similar to a segment on the same subject in January:

The problem isn’t that the show is repetitious; the problem is the ridiculous debate is stuck in neutral, and the discourse is just spinning its wheels. Jon Stewart’s commentary was just as applicable now as it was four months ago because the debate hasn’t made any progress.

Indeed, we keep having the same arguments. The right will ask, “Is waterboarding really torture?” The rest of us will calmly explain the situation, point to the law, the science, and the history, and explain why it’s torture. The right will respond, “OK, but is waterboarding really torture?” Months go by, and conservatives keep asking the same question, learning the answer, and then asking the same question again. Lather, rinse, repeat….

Policy debates aren’t supposed to work this way. One side makes a dubious claim, and their rivals respond. If the claim is debunked, the first side moves onto new claims. The right refuses to play by these rules — they make bogus arguments, they fail, and then they repeat the exact same arguments again. It’s like the entire conservative movement is suffering from a short-term memory problem. That, or they assume Americans are idiots, and repeating lies improves the likelihood we’ll believe them.

Yup – if there’s a metaphor for today’s GOP, it’s a 1980 Ford Pinto stuck in the mud after a deluge. The car is an old idea, it doesn’t run very well, and if you whack it too hard, it blows up. But the Republicans keep hawking the ’80 Pinto as the answer to today’s problems.

So that was one source of blogging ennui. And then there’s twitter.

I know: it’s a fad, it’s annoying, it’s a giant timesuck. In fact, it may be all of those things (certainly the third). But twitter is like a giant cocktail party where you can be in several conversations at once and never worry about whether you have bean dip on your shirt. The good stuff jumps out at you, and the, um, other stuff fades quickly in the mirror. There are lots of cool folks in twitterworld, and getting to (sort of) know them has been fun.

And then this week, Sonia Sotomayor hit the news.

Now, one can say a lot of things about Sonia Sotomayor. One might even have principled disagreements with some of her Judicial opinions. But the hard right just took a batshit crazy pill and went off. Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh called her a racist (Limbaugh added Obama to the “racist” category, too). Tom Tancredo called her membership in La Raza troubling, because it is, as we all know, the Latino KKK (but with guacamole!). Mitt Romney, who is not actually a Senator, threatened to filibuster her. Pat Buchanan called Sotomayor an affirmative action hire. NRO online’s Mark Krikorian complained about people in the media who had the audacity to pronounce Sotomayor’s name the way she and her family pronounce it. Glenn Beck referred to Sotomayor as “Hispanic chick lady.” And G. Gordon Liddy crawled out from under a rock to hope that key court conferences did not happen when Sotomayor was “menstruating or something.” I’m not sure if it’s the “menstruating” or the “or something” that’s more disturbing in that thought.

Now, as a partisan Democrat, it’s OK with me if the right wants to self-destruct. But I have said before, and I am serious, that it’s really not good for this country to not have a sane opposition party with robust intellectual principles. And say what you will about the GOP, but screaming about socialism and the inability of U.S. prisons to contain accused terrorists with their multiple superpowers isn’t exactly tightly moored to a coherent political philosophy.

Right now, Barack Obama’s opposition is the Blue Dog Democrats and a bunch of people who have lost touch with reality. Worse, when anyone in the GOP steps toward sanity, they are pulled back over the edge by their far right colleagues (or media overlord Rush).

The media wasn’t much better, with Politico’s Mike Allen referring to Sotomayor as a “single mother”, the New York Times clutching its pearls about Sotomayor’s temperament, and the AP discovering, to their dismay, that while it may be true that Sotomayor’s background was humble and all that, they were shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you – to discover that,as a Circuit Court Judge, Sotomayor makes a good income and is part of the power elite. Because we all know that Antonin Scalia, John Roberts, and Samuel Alito were humble judges (having taken vows of poverty) shunning the limelight when THEY were nominated.

So let’s review. We have a woman who was given an opportunity she might not have gotten, say, 20 years earlier, and she made the most of it. She has traveled further in her life’s journey than most of the members of the Supreme Court whom she will surely be joining in a few months. She is, by all accounts, a middle of the road judge and not an “activist” one, by which I mean she would be unlikely to vote to stop a state from trying to find out who actually got more votes in a presidential election. She has more judicial experience at this point in her career than any of the 8 justices with whom she will serve had when they were nominated.

Clearly, Pat Buchanan is right.

It seems to me that being qualified for the Supreme Court is a binary question – you either are or you’re not. And maybe, in this country, there are a hundred individuals – maybe more, maybe less – who can get over that bar.

Sonia Sotomayor is clearly one of them.

The Republican party can dance around it, but there it is. They don’t like how they think she’ll rule when she’s a Justice, which is fine. I didn’t think I’d like Scalia, Roberts, Alito, or Thomas when they were nominated, and they have not disappointed.

But there’s a difference between disagreeing with someone and thinking them not qualified. It’s a difference that some conservative legal scholars seem to get, and the GOP doesn’t. Worse for them, it seems they have not thought this out. They’re going to lose, so what will they gain from this exercise? They’re going to look silly, because most of their attacks have been silly, and in the process they will – what is it? – alienate the fastest-growing ethnic constituency in American politics.

Peter Sagal – yes, of Wait Wait Don’t Tell ME fame – had a good post on this earlier this week. Called “A Hot Furnace Burns any Fuel”, it was a riff on the reflexive right wing noise machine:

Watching the conservative punditocracy go after Judge Sotomayor is a lesson in how they’ll take anyone and try to make, as my grandmother used to say, a Federal case out of it. I am reminded of a scene in a play a friend of mine wrote years ago, in which a salesman, as an exercise, tries to sell.. a seashell. In trying to paint this hard working, moderate, hell, judicious judge as some kind of combination of Andrea Dworkin and Rita Moreno, these guys are trying to sell a seashell.

And he smacks down the affirmative action canard as well:

I also attended one of those Elite Institutions, and it is true that I probably had a harder time getting admitted as an upper-middle class Jewish kid from the burbs, than if I had been (say) poor and Latino from the Bronx, because the elite institutions have lots of me and not a lot of them, and want to spread the wealth. But of course it is also true that I had every advantage, and they had none, so maybe we should spot those guys a couple of points on their SATs.

To which I’d add that it’s not just about spreading the wealth, but that people with vastly different experiences will make an educational institution richer. Continuing:

And I knew some of them, and did projects some of them, and I saw a bit of that brusque behavior that people are now attributing to Sotomayor. “Ooh, she’s not nice.” If she’s anything like the people I met at Harvard in the ’80s, then what she is, is what we used to call a grind, somebody who got everything she has by working extremely hard, and was going to do the same today and the next day ad infinitum, and had very, very little patience for those of us — and I stress “us” — who walked around the Yahd as if being there was something we were owed.

Is she brusque? Is she dismissive? I have no idea, but I would believe it. She must look upon the aristocratic lawyers who stroll into her court, white and rich and Groton and Yale and summering on the Vineyard, the way farmers do at the people who think that food is something produced magically by waiters.

To which I’d say I actually doubt she’s dismissive – I’ve seen no indication of that in what I’ve read – but Sagal has, in a sentence, described how we should look at the rump of today’s GOP: “…the way farmers do at the people who think that food is something produced magically by waiters.”


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