Theatrical, but not educational

THEATRICAL, BUT NOT EDUCATIONAL…. The confirmation hearings for Judge Sonia Sotomayor produced quite a bit of political theater in the Senate this week, and all the players put on a good show. But after watching the proceedings carefully all week, Slate‘s Dahlia Lithwick explained that no one has actually learned anything about the Supreme Court nominee.

The fact that almost everybody in the media has interpreted these four days of hearings in precisely the same way tells me this was really outstanding scripted television. There’s no ambiguity about what happened here this week — only a lingering question about whether the “real” Sonia Sotomayor is best divined by looking at her judicial record or a line from her speeches. We can debate that question — who is the “real” Sonia Sotomayor? — until the cows come home, and we will never know the answer. This process was never going to give us that answer. She’ll let us know soon enough, I imagine.

The amazing thing, come to think of it, is that after four long days of testimony and questions and expert panels, our collective knowledge about this nominee has actually decreased. Abortion rights advocates and gun groups on both sides are about equally anxious now. Liberals are more nervous than ever about her pro-prosecution zeal. Conservatives have no idea whatsoever what she thinks about gay marriage. When folks complain about the confirmation system, they generally say we learn nothing about the nominee. In this particular case, most of us have actually had to un-learn what we thought we knew about her going in.

This whole process was designed to divine the unknowable from a nominee determined not to be known. We’d likely do better with a Magic 8 Ball.

Best of all, we knew this would happen. There was no mystery about how the process would play out — the script had been written and passed around years ago. It’s a bit like those who watch car racing in the hopes of seeing a spectacular crash, only in this case, the crash comes when someone says something unexpected. There were a few perilous moments, with bizarre questions/statements from Sessions, Coburn, and Kyl, but the nominee herself navigated the lanes with ease.

Which, of course, was entirely expected. It was precisely why Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) told her on Monday, “Unless you have a complete meltdown, you’re going to get confirmed … and I don’t think you will” have a meltdown.

At this point, then, it’s probably worth considering why the hearings are held at all, and what a more sensible confirmation process might look like.