FRED BARNES’ ASSUMPTIONS…. Within an hour of Sonia Sotomayor’s introduction as a Supreme Court nominee, the Weekly Standard‘s Fred Barnes was on Fox News, parroting the line that the judge is “not the smartest.”

While that was in line with the garden-variety smear that’s predictable from Barnes, yesterday, on Bill Bennett’s radio show, he went further.

BARNES: I think you can make the case that she’s one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, maybe so. Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders.

BARNES: One wonders.

BENNETT: Summa Cum Laude, I don’t think you get on affirmative action. I don’t know what her major was, but Summa Cum Laude’s a pretty big deal.

BARNES: I guess it is, but you know, there’s some schools and maybe Princeton’s not one of them, where if you don’t get Summa Cum Laude then or some kind of Cum Laude, you then, you’re a D+ student.

Barnes’ comments were probably just par for the course this week, but here’s the follow-up question: how do you know Sotomayor has “benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously”? The entire smear is predicated on ugly assumptions: a young Puerto Rican woman from the Bronx, raised in a single-parent household, couldn’t have found success without affirmative action. He doesn’t try to defend it; he just knows it.

It’s this insidious bigotry, perhaps not as blatant as that of Tancredo, that lingers too often on the right. Sotomayor couldn’t have earned her accomplishments, Barnes (and Limbaugh, and Buchanan) assumes. Even if it were true that her ethnicity helped Sotomayor reach an elite Ivy League institution, she obviously thrived in a competitive environment, based on nothing but her own skills and hard work. But when told the judge graduated Summa Cum Laude from Princeton, Barnes still can’t get past his original supposition.

Adam Serwer asked the question the other day I’d love to hear Barnes answer: “[H]ow many Ivy League degrees does a person of color have to have before they’re as good as a white person, and no longer reducible to an ‘affirmative action hire’?”

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.