Daniel Larison’s latest response makes explicit something I had suspected based on his previous posts: he is tearing Sonia Sotomayor’s comments out of a context of multiculturalism, critical legal theory, and more mainstream forms of judicial liberalism and trying to shoehorn them into a context of particularism and a paleoconservative understanding of diversity. His comments almost treat these liberal ideologies as if they don’t exist when they are in fact adhered to by many of the people now running the country — which might suggest a need to start looking critically at the people who are wrecking the country right now instead of continuing to focus on the people who were wrecking it yesterday.
Nobody as far as I can tell has criticized Sotomayor for expressing pride in her roots and her community. What has been at issue is her sustained argument with the idea that a wise old man and wise old woman can meaningfully strive for the same impartial justice — and her conclusion that a wise old Latina woman could make “better” decisions. Sotomayor’s remarks are preferable to other multiculturalist pronouncements in that she expresses pride in an actually existing culture rather than a generic celebration of non-whiteness. But at its root is a point of view where some cultures and heritages can be celebrated while others cannot (some are in fact denigrated).
That means we get to hear the good news about mass immigration but not the bad, celebrate the fruits of diversity but not question whether the New Haven firefighters are getting shafted, and talk about the richness of communities so long as they were not built or inhabited by dead white males. In the real world where this ideology has been in vogue, expressions like Sotomayor’s routinely coexist with accusations of racism against conservatives. I’d like to hear of an example where it has ever been the other way around.
Unlike some others, I have not actually called Sotomayor a racist — I have not seen evidence of a real animus against white people — but I have said that when the logic behind identity politics is laid bear, you get something that looks an awful lot like racism. Taken too far, it is detrimental to fair, color-blind justice. There is a real debate here over whether the way to get “beyond race” is to actually stop counting people by race or to emphasize race even more in pursuit of diversity. Sotomayor has made clear which side of that debate she’s on, and it isn’t a side where La Raza lies down with the League of the South in a joint celebration of particularism.
Larison argues that “having dramatically lowered the standards of what counts as a racist statement,” conservatives will ultimately pay the price. I’ve argued at length against conservatives playing the race card and have enumerated many examples of them doing so foolishly. But I don’t think it’s setting a ridiculously low standard to ask potential holders of high office to refrain from saying their race physiologically qualifies them for the position — a statement that would have indeed been historically more harmful coming from a white man, but is inappropriate across the board in an era of increasing racial diversity and the sharing of institutional power.
The only way I see any “boomerang” effect for conservatives is if they actually say or do something racist. And if they do, they’ll deserve all the criticism and political fallout that they get. But not a seat on the Supreme Court.
Notice to Readers: The American Spectator and Spectator World are marks used by independent publishing companies that are not affiliated in any way. If you are looking for The Spectator World please click on the following link: https://thespectator.com/world.