In my last column, I discussed the reasons why Judge Sonja Sotomayer should be confirmed for the Supreme Court. I have not changed in my mind, but today we'll look at the key negative that has arisen regarding her nomination. That issue is race.
The indictment against Judge Sotomayer is straightforward and is centered on the case of Frank Ricci, a Connecticut firefighter. Mr. Ricci, who is slightly dyslexic, overcame his obstacles and placed high enough on a placement test to merit promotion. However, none of the African-American members of the force scored high enough on this test. Based solely on this, Sotomayer threw out the test. And with it went Ricci’s hard-earned promotion. Frank Ricci had the misfortune of being Italian-American in a legal culture where being Italian—and any of the other European ethnicities all sloppily lumped together in the category called “white”—can be a hindrance rather than a help.
In a 2001 speech at Cal, Sotomayer piled on. She said “I would hope that a wise Latina woman, with the richness of her experience, would more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn’t lived that life.” The racial superiority in such a comment is self-evident, although if it leads Sotomayer to better legal conclusions than have been reached by white males Ted Kennedy, Patrick Leahy, Joe Biden and Dick Durbin, I won’t complain.
Whenever the subject of race comes up, Democrats get nervous. The party depends upon blue-collar people of various European backgrounds voting in alliance with African-Americans and Latinos. This is a gap that can be relatively easily managed—if you get away from the heated rhetoric of political activists, there’s common ground amongst common people. Most African-Americans or Latinos would acknowledge that what happened to Frank Ricci is wrong and an abuse of the system. Most European-Americans would agree that there needs to be legal recourse when obviously prejudicial practices are being followed. But there are two other divides that risk pulling apart when this happens, one large and one small.
The bigger divide is this—the Democratic Party relies on the Frank Riccis of the world to keep dutifully pulling the lever, while the party keeps raising money from wealthy left-wing interests, who remain predominantly of Euro background. The elites need affirmative action decisions like the one that screwed Ricci to assuage their own consciences. And this is the key wedge the Democrats fear being exploited.
Wealthy liberals are not the most politically courageous group in the world. Their tendency is to hide behind those who are less fortunate when making their arguments, while doing very little of substance to actually solve the problems. Thus you hear eloquent words about helping the poor and giving ethnic minorities a helping hand. What you rarely do is actually see them doing anything. You don’t find the children of rich liberals in the public schools in the Bronx. You don’t find a well-financed left-wing activist working for a promotion in a racially mixed police department or firehouse. You can find them vacationing in Cape Cod or skiing in Vale. (I was about to say you find them sitting in the $2,500 seats at the new Yankee Stadium, but you don’t see anyone in those).
This class of people has almost everything in life. But one thing they do covet is political power and to their great consternation, they can’t get their hands on it without the votes of those insufferable blue-collar Euro-ethnics, who can be found doing crass, unholy things like working overtime for a promotion, volunteering at their local church and/or worthwhile organization, and sitting in the upper grandstand at the ballpark.
So when issues are raised that threaten this arrangement, the voices of the well-funded Left come out ferociously swinging. They make it clear that anyone who dares think Frank Ricci has a gripe is pandering to racial prejudice. That the politicians who might point this out are appealing to the lowest common denominator in society. The wealthy Left is a small minority, but it controls key levers of influence in academia, Hollywood, the mainstream media and unfortunately the power buttons of the national Democratic Party. This group is represented in the Senate by men like Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein. They find their media voices through Kool-Aid dispensers like Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne and New York Times writer Maureen Dowd. And they raise money heavily in Hollywood and through radical gay activists.
Giving Frank Ricci’s case more attention means calling attention to the fact that the agenda of these people differs radically from the agenda of working-class Euro-Americans. Just as calling attention to the issue of gay marriage highlights the divide between the well-populated African-American churches and Hispanic Catholics on one side, and the Liberal elite the other. Hence, the Left seeks not to win debate, but to suppress it via intellectual intimidation.
The question of race creates a divide in another area within the Democratic Party. It’s one that’s not nearly as consequential, but it’s of great interest to this particular site. It’s the divide between pro-life Democrats. One the one side you have liberals, predominantly Catholic, who are perfectly comfortable with the Left’s party line since the Revolution of 1968, with the one key exception of abortion. Other than being pro-life, these voters could read the Daily Kos and agree with all of it.
Then you have others, which include this writer. We have strong populist sentiment on economic issues and our hearts are with traditional, pre-1968 Democratic values. But the Revolution left us more displaced, as the Party drifted into radicalism not just on abortion, but on questions of law and order, national security and race. It began to believe that somehow government wasn’t useful in cracking down on crime, or taking out a despotic regime, but was when it could help favored political groups.
Racial issues inflame this divide too. They have been doing so since 1974 in Boston when a judge ordered that children in the Irish Catholic neighborhoods be bused into inner-city schools to achieve racial balance, while leaving wealthy liberal families in the suburbs untouched. They are still doing so today. That’s why even though Sonja Sotomayer is going to be confirmed to the Court, and rightly so, the Left has reason to fear an airing of Frank Ricci’s case in the Judiciary Committee’s hearings.