A columnist’s call for Republicans to grow up gets a response.
Peggy, can we talk?
Columnist Peggy Noonan over at the Wall Street Journal has written her usual thoughtful piece this last week. Her subject? What, exactly, should be the Republican response to the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court?
“Republicans, Let’s Play Grown Up,” she suggests, saying the Sotomayor hearings are an opportunity for a serious debate. Along the way, she says this: “Newt Gingrich twitters that Judge Sotomayor is a racist. Does anyone believe that?”
In the interest of obliging on her first point — the need for a serious debate — and answering her second — does anyone believe the Judge is a racist?— a response follows.
Before I begin, I must fairly inform the reader that, for reasons I don’t understand I’ve never met Peggy Noonan. We were in fact down the hall colleagues in the Reagan White House. With a sheepish amusement I recall exactly the moment I first saw her — she entering the West Wing as I was leaving — and thinking to myself: who was THAT girl in the black turtleneck?! It was, of course, Ms. Noonan, one of the president’s most accomplished speechwriters (and there were several of those). Alas, thoroughly preoccupied with my own turf, I never got to meet her and sometime thereafter she left, far too soon.
I enjoyed your latest on the proper response by Republicans to Judge Sotomayor’s nomination. As always, thought provoking. You raised a serious point in citing Newt Gingrich’s remark that the Judge is a racist, asking, “Does anyone believe that?”
Between us, I have to say the answer is “yes” — I do believe it.
A personal story, if I may.
You and I come from similar backgrounds. As you grew up in Massapequa, Long Island, my parents and thus both sides of our extended family came from Riverhead, a ways further out on the Island. After the war, my impending arrival decided them, newly married and living/working in Manhattan, on the appeal of life in a New England town. For my first fifteen years, life was spent in the idyllic precincts of Northampton, Massachusetts, a young life filled with friends, school, church and bike rides along the leafy streets of a Northeastern American college town.
Dad was in the hotel business, his first and true professional love being hotel management. It wasn’t Mom’s — she was not a fan of the 24/7 nature of the business. So for a while he got out and had an insurance business as I pedaled placidly from one grade to another. This gave both of them time for politics, and they were for a while very active. Dad was even elected to Calvin Coolidge’s old seat on the Northampton City Council, and, for lack of a baby sitter, I was toted to any number of Lincoln Day Dinners. By 1965, however, it was clear to both my parents that Dad was happiest in the hotel business. To my dismay, we said goodbye to the only life I had ever known and headed to a small southern town where Dad was to be the manager of a brand new hotel for a well-known national chain.
This was a considerable bit of culture shock for our little family unit of three. Our Northern roots made us “Yankees” in the vernacular of our new Southern home. The news of the day as brought to us through television in Massachusetts had been about the racial turmoil of civil rights marches, fire hoses and police dogs. It was appalling — but distant. There was not a black soul to be seen in Northampton as I recall.
So our arrival in this Southern town, which I will not name, provided a sensation of distinctive aloneness for the newly arrived family of Yankees. Accents were different. Country music, not rock and roll, was the norm of the local radio station. Something called grits was a culinary specialty. There was lots of “yes sir-ring” and “no ma’m-ing” that was unheard of in the brisker climes of the North.
There was a something else, too. Racism.
Calling on a prominent local couple as my father’s job dictated, my mother and I looked at each other in quiet astonishment as the wife announced that her handyman — a black man — had had the temerity to knock and enter through her front door instead of the back. Worse, he had sat down on her living room sofa. Until recently, she made quite clear, this kind of behavior was unheard of. “Can you believe it!” she kept repeating in a refined accent worthy of Scarlett O’Hara. “The n… came right here into my front room and sat on my parlor sofa!” Afterwards my mother and I discussed this for hours. Never in either of our lives had we ever encountered this kind of racial attitude.