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Contentions

32

Dana Milbank went to the trouble of counting them. There are thirty-two — words, that is, in what is already becoming a key concern in the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. They come from that Berkeley 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.

As Milbank is famous for doing, he paints a portrait of the hapless Robert Gibbs, confronting an increasingly peeved press corp. All they want to know is what she meant by those thirty-two words. He observes, “Missing from Gibbs’s answer was any attempt to explain or defend the 32 words.” You’d think the White House would have an answer ready, wouldn’t you? You’d think they were at the ready, with a reasonable and benign explanation. “Of course she didn’t mean that judges views are dictated by ethnicity. . .” Or something.

Needless to say, it didn’t go well:

“Are you saying that there is no racial dimension and there should be no racial dimension interpreted or drawn from Judge Sotomayor’s comments?” Fox’s Major Garrett asked Gibbs.

Gibbs ducked the question, directing Garrett to “read the full article” and advising reporters: “I think we can all move past YouTube snippets and half-sentences and actually look at the honest-to-God record.”

April Ryan of American Urban Radio shouted back at the press secretary: “These are words that she said out of her mouth!”

Gibbs would have done well to mention Sotomayor’s line in that same speech in which she said that “we should not be so myopic as to believe that others of different experiences or backgrounds are incapable of understanding the values and needs of people from a different group.” But Gibbs evidently wasn’t prepared, for all he said when pressed to explain the 32 words was “I think — I — I have confidence in Americans reading not just part of, but the whole statement.”

It was left to Jake Tapper (who had bothered to read the speech) to ask Gibbs what he thinks she meant. Gibbs punted.

Milbank is right that the White House will need “to do better to make the 32 words go away.” But the mystery remains as to why they weren’t prepared. Did they miss it? Did they miss how off-putting it sounds? Perhaps in their infatuation with biography they paid too little attention to Sotomayor’s own words. That’s a mistake because words — thirty two and many, many more — are what the Supreme Court and the confirmation hearings are all about.



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