Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Big Picture: Very Proud of the Sotomayor Selection

I am extraordinarily pleased by President Obama's selection of Sonia Sotamayor to the Supreme Court, and I think it may be the single best decision he has made so far as President. Although Sotomayor's judicial philosophy is significantly more conservative than that of my ideal justices, such as Thurgood Marshall and William Brennan, she will still be a vast, and I cannot overstate this enough, vast improvement over the selections by President George W. Bush, and one of the strongest indicators yet of why elections matter. It will be an enormous benefit to the Court to have its narrow and elitist perspective broadened by someone from her background and life experience - someone who understands that the law is not an intellectual game, and it's not a vehicle to protect the privileged, but a matter of critical import to the everyday lives of all Americans. The best indicator of this shift is that Bush's final selection, Samuel Alito, was a member of a student group at Princeton that protested the decision to finally admit women to that institution in the late 60s, and a few years later Sotomayor was one of the first women to attend Princeton. That is real change, and it points to one of the most important benefits of Sotomayor's selection: as the Strike said, she will be one of the most powerful role models and heroes, not only for Latinos and women but even for white males like myself. Through smarts, hard work, an ability to engage and inspire her peers, and a lifelong commitment to social justice, a woman without any power or means ascended to the pinnacle of American society. This selection makes me very proud to be an American. There have long been two competing strains in American ideology: one strain seeks to maintain America as it is, or return us to some mythical past of purity, that what makes America America is unfettered markets, limitless consumption, the rugged individualist, our Christian religion, our English language, and our white European heritage, and anything that threatens the dominance of those institutions is a threat to America. The competing strain holds that no race or religion or language or economic ideology should define America, which is instead defined above all by a commitment to ensuring equality of opportunity. This strain holds that we can be a great nation without being majority-Christian, majority-white, majority-English-speaking, because what makes us special is the degree to which we enable people from every background to achieve all that they can, for themselves and for their country. Barack Obama's election and current stratospheric popularity have thrilled me because they represent a triumph for that second strain. Now the elevation of Sonia Sotomayor to national role model is another serious triumph, and a blow to those who choke off social progress out of some misguided commitment to an exclusivist America that never existed anyway.
Speaking of those reactionary forces, Obama's selection is extraordinarily shrewd politically because it is dividing, weakening, and marginalizing the Republican Party even as it solidifies the support of the huge constituencies of Latinos and women. Going back to the primaries, Obama was weakest among Latinos and women - partly due to the strength of Hillary Clinton, but also due to some characteristic awkwardness from Obama - and this selection should really shore up any lingering doubts and earn him tremendous goodwill. The Democratic Party and liberalism should be major beneficiaries as well: among Latinos especially, I expect that this historic selection should earn serious long-term loyalty among the fastest-growing demographic group. Up until now Latinos have generally favored Democrats due less to any particularly strong reach-out by the Democratic Party, and more as a default reaction to the anti-immigrant anger of the Republican Party. But now Obama's selection of Sotomayor will be a powerful symbol of Democratic commitment to Latino advancement, and you can bet that for decades to come, countless Democratic politicians will point to her on the Supreme Court and close their speeches to Latino voters with the surefire applause line: "We are the party of Sonia Sotomayor!"

This is being made all the easier by the almost comically self-destructive exploits of the Republican Party, which is fulfilling every Democratic strategist's wildest dreams as they revel in the further marginalization of their party as a last bastion of bitter old white men. I will delve further into the implications of this marginalization in my next post.

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