Friday, May 29, 2009

Group Identity Politics: A Shield and a Weapon

The appointment of Judge Sonia Sotomayor is being hailed as a "political masterstroke" by many pundits, but the fact is that the Senate Republicans couldn't block her (technically, they could, today, but the vote is not today), if they wanted to. So what was considered so politically terrific about it? Her "compelling" life story is the conventional narrative. However, that doesn't quite wash, because many Republican Supreme Court appointees have had compelling life stories, but it didn't stop the media and Democrats from critcizing them. White House Spokesman Robert Gibbs gave us an idea of what the real political masterstroke was, when he said this:

"I think it is probably important for anybody involved in this debate to be exceedingly careful with the way in which they've decided to describe different aspects of this impending confirmation." (link)

That's when the latent political strategy behind this appointment became visible. By appointing a Latino woman, her judicial philosophy cannot be challenged, because that philosophy is tied into her "identity" as a member of both of those groups. That is, they will characterize any attack on her judicial philosophy as an attack on her race or gender.

This is another of my problems with identity politics. Whether race, gender, or sexual orientation, some "groups" are just "supposed" to be liberal. It's used as both a weapon and a shield, politically. In this case, the Obama administration is using it as both. Since she is a "safe" appointment numerically, why not try to alienate the GOP from women and minorities, while they're at it?

There is much more going on with her appointment, but "identity politics" were blatantly on that White House statement. Was it necessary to play that card? Or are her statements of judicial philosophy just a minor distraction, hyped by right-wing zealots like me? In my zealous opinion, she has made some praiseworthy rulings in her time on the bench, and is qualified to serve on the Supreme Court. However, political ideology has been established as a further criteria by none other than my own Sen. Schumer, back in 2001:

"It's the dirty little secret of judicial nominations," Schumer said. "Ideology plays a big role, but it's below the radar screen. All I want is for us to be upfront about it. This doesn't mean a nominee's views on issues like abortion should be the sole determinant in voting for or against - it shouldn't - but since it's one of the questions we all talk about behind the scenes, we should expose our thinking so everyone sees it. What I want is honesty." (link)

Now, Republicans "oppose her at their peril," (link) Schumer says about Sotomayor, echoing the White House line. Let's be honest. Liberals are trying to use "group identity politics" as a shield against scrutinizing her ideology, and as a weapon against any Republicans who dare to try it. This will be an interesting political confrontation, and it's only just beginning.

1 comment:

BobG said...

Schumer is an arrogant, bigoted little turd.

He has to decide things ideologically because he isn't smart enough for intelligent analysis.

Good post, Chris.