Thursday, May 28, 2009

Thirty-two words

Since the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the vacant seat on the Supreme Court, there's been a lot of hubbub about something she said in a 2001 speech:
"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."
I'll grant that if a "white male" (like me) had made an equivalent statement, he'd be tarred as a raving bigot. That's not the point here, of course, but it's the way our society works -- the politics of pouncing, if you will -- which provides an explanation, if not an excuse, for what Rush Limbaugh said on Tuesday:
"So here you have a racist. You might want to soften that and you might want to say a reverse racist. And the libs, of course, say that minorities cannot be racists because they don't have the power to implement their racism. Well, those days are gone because reverse racists certainly do have the power to implement their power. Obama is the greatest living example of a reverse racist, and now he's appointed one...."
The moment I heard that, I was tempted to dismiss it as typical talk-radio garbage -- but what if it's true? I mean, sometimes the truth is buried at the bottom of a dumpster.

The intellectually honest thing to do, I decided, was to seek context for the 32 words that moved Limbaugh and his apostles to label the judge "a racist." So last night I read Sotomayor's entire speech, all 3,929 words of it.

Here's what I discovered, beginning with the passage that's raised all the ruckus.

"I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life."

"However, to understand takes time and effort, something that not all people are willing to give. For others, their experiences limit their ability to understand the experiences of others. Others simply do not care. Hence, one must accept the proposition that a difference there will be by the presence of women and people of color on the bench. Personal experiences affect the facts that judges choose to see. My hope is that I will take the good from my experiences and extrapolate them further into areas with which I am unfamiliar. I simply do not know exactly what that difference will be in my judging. But I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage."

"I am reminded each day that I render decisions that affect people concretely and that I owe them constant and complete vigilance in checking my assumptions, presumptions and perspectives and ensuring that to the extent that my limited abilities and capabilities permit me, that I reevaluate them and change as circumstances and cases before me requires. I can and do aspire to be greater than the sum total of my experiences but I accept my limitations. I willingly accept that we who judge must not deny the differences resulting from experience and heritage but attempt, as the Supreme Court suggests, continuously to judge when those opinions, sympathies and prejudices are appropriate."

Sotomayor's candor is refreshing and, in my opinion, altogether proper and anything but racist. Her apparent thoughtfulness humanizes the bench, which reportedly is what Pres. Obama was looking for in his first nominee.

I didn't need this case-in-point to know that if talk radio suddenly became intellectually honest, it would cease to exist. Broadcast buffoonery would disappear if more Americans applied critical thought to what they see and hear, and Rush the Entertainer would be spinning scratchy vinyl records in Tupelo (sponsored by the local apothecary, no doubt).

While I don't have time to dissect all of Sotomayor's speeches and decisions, I can say unequivocally that the flap over those 32 words is nothing but a canard manufactured by hopeless conservatives.

I have plenty of other reasons to be concerned about this nominee, but racism -- or "reverse" racism, whatever the hell that is -- sure isn't one of them.