Sunday, July 19, 2009

Pat Buchanan's America and Sotomayor

I've been watching the Sotomayor confirmation hearings pretty faithfully since Monday, and one thing jumps out about the entire affair. Obama might get his nominee confirmed, but the Republicans soundly won the week anyway.

Conceding their relative powerlessness to stop the Sotomayor train from eventually reaching its final destination (the chambers of the Supreme Court), they turned the hearings into a very dramatic lesson on "the perils of reserve racism." On the white man's newest burden: being victim par excellence of a newfangled American racism.

Their sessions with the nominee were less about Sotomayor's judicial record or her professional readiness for the highest court in the land and more of a public referendum on Affirmative Action and the logic of racial rhetoric today. And the Senators did a masterful job pummeling Affirmative Action at every single turn.

Not only did two of the firefighters take part in the closing act (Ricci and Vargas), sincerely voicing their anger and frustration at the 2nd Circuit's Summary Judgement on their case, which they read as dismissive and indifferent, the Republican Senators spent the bulk of their time lecturing Sotomayor on why there shouldn't be any governmental recognition of race at all--or questioning the nominee about whether or not there should be double-standards (one, say, for Latinas and African Americans and another for working class Whites) in discussions about race and racism in America.

Her now-infamous invocations of that "wise Latina woman" took center stage all week. And they asked her the same questions obsessively. What did she mean by that comparison? How could she have said it in the first place? Does that explain her response to Ricci? Why did she think she could/should get away with that when none of the White men questioning her could have invoked their racial masculinity in the same way without being tarred and feathered?

They completely controlled the terms of that discussion.

It has already started to go viral, but in case you missed it, Pat Buchanan was on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show last night, and he almost seemed to be caricaturing the Senators' position, providing a less cloaked rendition of what detractors understood the Senators to be doing all week: defending the White working class against undeserving Affirmative Action babies. (The YouTube clip is above. Please take 10 minutes and watch the entire thing.)

Buchanan argues that White people built America (without help from anyone else) and that that explains why over 99% of the Supreme Court judges in this country's history have been white. Whites, he proclaims, were the only ones who died at Gettysburg or signed the Declaration of Independence. To invoke racism as an explanation for their dominance on the Court, he declares, is as ridiculous as arguing that black athletes only dominate America's olympic track team because of discrimination against White runners.

In many ways, the Republican Senators who questioned Sotomayor seemed to be implying something similar in their attacks on Affirmative Action and the logic of New Haven's attempt to determine why no Black firefighters passed the test for promotion. Those Black firefighters just didn't study hard enough, the senators believe. And they might be right. But where was even the gentlest Democratic push back against the wholesale lack of curiosity or conversation about the Black firefighters' collective failure? Maybe a Wise Latina Senator would have pointed out that palpable silence.

Crossposted at The Chronicle of Higher Education's Brainstorm Blog

1 comment:

Burr Deming said...

Television guests are sometimes critical of Buchanan, referring to him as a "nativist." The truth is he is a racist, by dictionary definition.

I do see a problem with Judge Sotomayor's nomination that would put Democrats on the spot. But conservative Republicans cannot bring themselves to raise the issue.