Commentary Magazine


Is This What They Had in Mind?

It is hard to imagine that Obama didn’t anticipate that the Sotomayor nomination would, in large, measure turn on race. After all, the New Haven firefighter case is the quintessential affirmative action case (with sympathetic working class heroes as the victims) and Sotomayor talked in speech after speech about race – a lot. Did he really imagine all this would be missed or would turn out to be a good thing for him and his pick?

Stuart Taylor points to polling data reflecting overwhelming public opposition to race preferences and remarks:

[T]his puts liberal Democrats very far out of sync with the overwhelming majority of Americans, including us centrists. President Obama made noises during the campaign that seemed to suggest he understood this. But the Sotomayor nomination — for all her inspiring accomplishments, powerful intellect, and devotion to the underprivileged — looks like a strong Obama endorsement of the racial preferences and identity politics that she has supported.

What is especially noteworthy is the degree to which those favoring race preferences explain away the notion that anyone gets the short end of the stick when race or gender is substituted for merit. Taylor explains:

In response to Judge Rosemary Pooler’s assertion that “no one was hurt” in the New Haven case, Torre said: “No one was hurt? For heaven’s sakes, judge, if they didn’t refuse to fill the vacancies, these men would be lieutenants and captains. How can you say they weren’t hurt? They’re out $1,000 apiece [for test preparation]…. They spent three months of their lives holed up in a room, like I was and you were when we took the bar exam.”

Torre went on to emphasize why the test was a valid basis for making promotions — and what can happen when promotions go to people who have not done their homework

[. . .]

Judge Sotomayor responded by observing that there must be “a fair test that could be devised that measures knowledge in a more substantive way.”

Translation: New Haven needs a test that won’t give such an advantage to the firefighters who have learned the most about fighting fires.

Obama and his team, not without good reason, have a nearly unlimited confidence in their ability to control the narrative and direct the national debate. But from time to time, whether on Guantanamo or the stimulus plan, reality swamps the spin. The voters can assess for themselves what is being sold. On Sotomayor they can decide whether she and, by inference, the president are selling a vision they don’t like.

Along the way they may discover that the president and his nominee are, how shall we say it, not at all empathetic toward the victims of race preferences.