Monday, June 01, 2009

Random, Sans-Links Reflections on the Sotomayor Discourse

1)Harrogate is deeply annoyed and saddened by how eagerly, thoroughly, and uncritically, everybody--beginning with Barack Obama himself---has cheerled Sotomayor's "bootstrap" credentials. The following opinion may annoy some of Harrogate's fellow Board Members at TRS, but Harrogate thinks that all this stuff about a girl from the Bronx in a single parent home making good through hard work is nothing but another manifestation of one of the most destructive American myths that we have. Almost invariably, the "bootstrap narrative" implicitly asserts that the working poor and the underclass in this country owe their plight to laziness, or some other personal shortcoming. Think of the "welfare queen" model that Reagan traded in so brilliantly.

In other words, the following formulation once again is given creds: "Oh, Look!!!! Sotomayor did it! Why can't the rest of you lazy asses do it too?" Praising hard work and talent is not a problem in itself. But the "bootstrap narrative" has been done, quite literally Harrogate would argue, to death.

2)Obama's (and Sotomayor's) rhetoric of "empathy," on this score, is much better indeed, than the bootstrap narrative. That such an idea as empathy for the less fortunate is rare indeed to our politics has been evidenced by the conniptions we have seen the Right, as well as the Media, go into over the Word and the Idea it Signifies.

3)After someone can start showing us some (not just an exception, but SOME) instances where Scalia and Thomas and Roberts and Ginsburg and Breyer, to name five of some 107, have flouted the ideological expectations that come with them as conservatives and liberals respectively: THEN Harrogate will be a little more sympathetic to the Right's current anti-Sotomayor argument that Impartiality is supposed to be more than just an aspiration.

The Right has been screaming that judges are supposed to apply the law blindly, and leave their politics at the door. But the assumption of course is that Conservatives are always correct in their interpretation and desired application of the Law.

Hmmmm. Maybe Kennedy's and O'Connor's records as "swing judges" better suit the criteria of a judge being willing to flout his or her own political views, in the name of legal impartiality. But those judges are not respected by the Right, nearly so much as Scalia, who is ideologically consistent.

Opponents of Sotomayor and more broadly of Obama. Ask thyselves, then: Are ye really mad at the idea of political sensibilities affecting judges? Or only mad at the idea of LIBERAL sensibilities affecting judges.

4)Her confirmation process is going to be ugly and what is worse, totally unartistic.

The GOP will attack awkwardly (not wanting to come off as racists or sexists), and the Dems will defend awkwardly (not wanting to come off as understanding that the idea of judicial impartiality, like impartiality in any other area of human existence, is indeed only an aspiration).


solon said...

There are a few interesting aspects of the "bootstrap" narrative.

First, I think for the Obama administration, it is a means for confirmation and not an end in itself. The narrative is similar to the "Pin Point" strategy to introduce Clarence Thomas. But now the added effect is to cut off debate on the topic: how can conservatives vote against a Latina woman who worked hard and overcame so many obstacles, yada yada yada. It does not validate the Reagan myth as much as it provides political grounds to further diminish conservative ideology: this woman represents all that you believe so how can you vote against her?

It is a masterful ploy to an easy confirmation.

Second, during the announcement, it was interesting to listen to the "bootstrap" narrative from everyone except the nominee herself. In her acceptance, she spoke solely in communitarian themes, which I do not think the right has mentioned (though I have not been looking to hard). Since the dominant narrative is "bootstraps" there is a deflection away from her beliefs, which is truly mind boggling.

I do not think that this nomination will be ugly at all. I think, because of the pick, this will be an easy confirmation. With Obama's selection there are few grounds to choose against her and not suffer a major political setback. Which Republican will vote against the first Latina nomination and not be fearful of further GOP losses at the polls, especially in Florida, Texas, the midwest, and the southwest. If your the GOP, you may pick up votes in the rust belt because of identity politics but the GOP will not be taking the rust belt back any time soon.

Obama plays long ball. And he is farther ahead of the competition.

harrogate said...


Totally agree that i this case, the bootstrap narrative is a front line weapon that helps ensure her confirmation. Harrogate HAS been paying attention to the Right on her, and they have almost alll of them fallen into the trap, beginning their talks with caveats about how great Sotomayor's story is. So, politically and rhetorically effective? Hell yes.

As to your point on Sotomayor's own communitarian rhetoric. Hmmm. Harrogate hasn't been following her own speeches that closely, but during her acceptance what Harrogate heard was a lot of thanking family and other personal connections. Which is great. But that too plays into this long-established idea that public assistance to the underclass is not necesary, that a "hand up" is the province of family and friends.

Harrogate's problem is that this strategy, while astute in that it paves an easier road to confirmation, cedes important rhetorical ground--in effect once again perpetuating a narrative that hurts poor people in America.

And you may be right that it won't be ugly. Harrogate certainly hopes her confirmation process goes smoothly, as all in all, at this point, she looks like a fine judge. We'll see.