The last refuge of scoundrels

THE LAST REFUGE OF SCOUNDRELS…. It’s understandable to take at least some notice of political “firsts.” Barack Obama is the first African-American president. Hillary Clinton was the first woman with a strong chance of winning the White House. Kennedy was the first Catholic president, Lieberman was the first Jewish candidate on a national ticket, etc. These are breakthrough moments in American history, and they should be a source of national pride.

To that end, there’s nothing wrong with appreciating the diversity that Sonia Sotomayor would bring to the Supreme Court. She would be the first Latina justice and the third woman to ever serve on the high court. It’s an encouraging development, to be sure.

But just one day after the announcement, the discussion surrounding this “first” has already veered in some insulting directions. Dana Goldstein noted this morning:

One of the clear effects of the Sotomayor nomination is that we’re going to be talking — a lot — about affirmative action, for the first time in awhile. Of course, there is the rehearsed sense of outrage, from conservatives, that this Hispanic woman was nominated at all. So many qualified white men were available for the job! But is there any evidence that Judge Sotomayor’s actual legal opinions on matters of race and gender vary from those of the white dude she would replace on the Court, David Souter? In short, no — at least not yet.

And that, in short, should be the end of it.

Except, of course, it’s not. The right wants Americans to believe Sotomayor is a “racist.” George Will, using language we’re going to hear a lot of over the next couple of months, insisted that Sotomayor “embraces identity politics,” including the notion that “members of a particular category can be represented — understood, empathized with — only by persons of the same identity.” Pat Buchanan, always a paragon of respect and tolerance, described her as an “affirmative action pick.”

Michael Goldfarb, after scrutinizing Sotomayor’s efforts as an undergrad in 1974, suggested this morning that Sotomayor “has been the recipient of preferential treatment for most of her life.”

And Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) believes, without proof, that Sotomayor’s ability “to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences” is in doubt.

It’s been one day. It’s only going to get worse.