In Sonia v. Sarah, GOP is doomed

The Bronx judge, the Alaska pin-up girl and the Republican Party

The Globe and Mail

Margaret Wente

Last updated on Tuesday, Jul. 14, 2009 03:54PM EDT

The Democrats have Sonia Sotomayor. The Republicans have Sarah Palin. That’s all you really need to know. Between them, these two women explain why the Republicans are doomed.

Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina who grew up in a Bronx housing project, is a shoo-in for the Supreme Court. Barack Obama knew exactly what he was doing when he picked her. She is a symbol of Hispanic aspirations in a country where Hispanics are an increasingly powerful political force. She’s known for her ferocious drive and work ethic and, despite what you may hear, she appears to be a moderate. She represents the American dream in action. The Republicans hate her.

Sarah Palin was the most scarily incompetent vice-presidential nominee in the history of the United States. She graduated from the University of Idaho, where she majored in communications (still not her strong suit). She represents the Peter Principle in action. The Republicans love her.

Guess which one has been attacked by Karl Rove for not having the intellect for the job? That’s right. Sonia Sotomayor.

According to leading Republican pundits, Judge Sotomayor is a hot-tempered, dim-witted bigot whose judicial activism (read nutty identity politics) could play havoc with the Constitution. Newt Gingrich, the former Republican House speaker, even called her a “Latina racist.” Amazingly, these are the same people who continue to insist that Sarah Palin is qualified to run for president of the United States. They insist she is the victim of a vicious smear job by the eastern media elites.

Some Republicans admit that, if they’d bothered to give the pin-up girl from Alaska 1 per cent of the grilling that Judge Sotomayor is going to get, they’d be a lot better off today. But Alaska was so very far away. And Sarah was so fetching in her running shorts. They did less vetting than you’d do to choose the family dog. And then, when she peed all over the carpet, they forgave her. After she bizarrely quit her job as governor of Alaska, two-thirds of registered Republicans said they’d still vote for her for president.

In her fishing overalls and boots, Ms. Palin styles herself as a working-class hero. In fact, her father was a teacher, and her background is utterly middle class. Judge Sotomayor’s father died when she was 9. He was a Puerto Rican factory worker with a third-grade education.

Ms. Palin despises people who were educated in elite Ivy League universities. Judge Sotomayor, on the other hand, was smart enough to get into them. She put herself through school on scholarships, and graduated from Princeton with top honours. Ms. Palin, who finds homework disagreeable, has never doubted her own abilities for a minute. But Judge Sotomayor worries constantly that she’s not good enough. “I am always looking over my shoulder, wondering if I measure up,” she has said.

Ms. Palin plays identity politics to the hilt. But Republicans charge that Judge Sotomayor’s identity will dangerously skew her judgments. They can’t seem to grasp that everyone’s perspective (even theirs) is to some extent informed by their background and life experience. No one should be shocked that a minority woman from the South Bronx might have a different lens on life than, say, Karl Rove. Sonia Sotomayor put it nicely when she said, “I simply do not know what the difference will be in my judging, but I accept there will be some based on my gender and my Latina heritage.”

I used to think that, after the debacle of the Bush years, the train wreck of Sarah Palin and the Obama rout, the Republican Party would recover its sanity and regroup. Clearly, I was wrong. People who argue that Sarah Palin is good for America while Sonia Sotomayor is a threat are obviously out of their minds. They are determined to drive their own party off a cliff into oblivion. And they’re succeeding nicely.

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