Sonia Sotomayor's Troubled Eyes

Is anyone else sick and tired of listening to Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee cower in the face of Sonia Sotomayor's sex and ethnicity?  Reports out of Washington describe the Republican Senators tiptoeing ever so gingerly around Sotomayor so as not to alienate the female and Hispanic vote.  What's worse, the embarrassing sideshow includes the kind of pathetic pandering many Americans have come to expect at these empty political charades. 

Senator Jon Kyl, R-Arizona, for example said he expected every American to be "proud that a Hispanic woman has been nominated to sit on the Supreme Court."  Senator John Cornyn, R- Texas, added: "Your nomination should make us all feel good as Americans." Conservative Senators are quivering in the face of an obviously partial and biased minority candidate just as much of the nation quivered in the presence of another minority candidate: Barack Obama.

What America needs right now is courage and mutual respect -- not empathy and sensitivity.  Anyone with an ounce of dignity should be appalled by the patronizing behavior on display since the Senate confirmation hearings began.  Showing empathy to a woman with a frightening history of color consciousness on the bench and in many of her personal statements may score political points with voters in some swing states, but this dubious strategy comes with a profound price tag: the degradation of American civic life.

Conservative pundits are telling us that Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation is a done deal.  Even the editors of National Review advise congressional Republicans not to stonewall Sotomayor's confirmation and "expend some of the political capital" that can be used to oppose Obama's more important policies.  These are policies, they say, that will "inflict damage on our country that will take generations to repair." 

In fact, what the conservative pundits fail to recognize is that progressive intellectuals like Obama and Sotomayor have helped to convince much of America to replace mutual respect with partisan solidarity.  In other words, Obama's damaging policies are merely the symptoms of a much deeper revolutionary vision that seeks to undermine the very basis of democratic society: mutual trust and respect among individuals.

Behind Sonia Sotomayor's judicial "empathy" in other words is a view of human nature that degrades both victim and benefactor.  In the words of historian Christopher Lasch:

"Compassion has become the human face of contempt."

Lasch observed quite rightly in his book The Revolt of the Elites that "trust, in a democracy, can only be grounded in mutual respect."  Respect is destroyed, says Lasch, when the purveyors of social justice use empathy and compassion instead of "impersonal standards impartially applied" to measure the accountability of American citizens:

"A misplaced compassion degrades both the victims, who are reduced to objects of pity, and their would-be benefactors, who find it easier to pity their fellow citizens than to hold them up to impersonal standards, attainment of which would entitle them to respect."

In other words, not only did Sotomayor show contempt for the white firefighters in the Ricci case, but what the pundits on both sides seem to be missing is that her ruling in this case also served to degrade the black firefighters who challenged the white firefighters' promotions.  In short, Sonia Sotomayor's cavalier dismissal in the Ricci case degraded everyone involved, including Sonia Sotomayor. 

In a recent interview with Newsmax correspondent Ashley Martella, Judge Robert Bork commented on Sonia Sotomayor's summary judgment against the white firefighters in the Ricci case:

"It really was a sign of disrespect to the litigants who were asking for justice.  They should have had a fair hearing and a reasoned opinion written for them even if they lost.  But they didn't get that."

The key word here is "disrespect."  No one should be proud of a judge who disrespects victims of discrimination who simply wanted a fair hearing.

The argument here is not intended to discount the role that pity and compassion play in human relations.  What needs to be highlighted however is how both Obama and Sotomayor have used these natural human responses for political and ideological gain.  Much of Obama's economic and foreign policy is based on misplaced empathy - spreading the wealth around or spreading the apologies around.  Sotomayor's vision is a hardened zero-sum equation between white males and ethnic women.  Both of these progressives destroy democracy by destroying the basis of self-respect.  Lasch puts it this way:

"We pity those who suffer, and we pity, most of all, those who suffer conspicuously; but we reserve respect for those who refuse to exploit their suffering for the purposes of pity."

When Senators grovel in front of Sonia Sotomayor they betray their allegiance to an ideology that destroys the very basis of human self-respect.  If Hispanics and women in crucial swing states find the excessive praise for Sotomayor appealing rather than degrading then America probably doesn't have much of a chance.  If they consider Sotomayor's Ricci ruling beneficial to black firefighters America is probably doomed in the long run as well.

What Americans need at this critical juncture, according to Lasch, is less sensitivity and more accountability:

"[I]t is our reluctance to make demands on each other, much more than our reluctance to help those in need, that is sapping the strength of democracy today."

We make demands on each other by subjecting ourselves to "impersonal standards impartially applied."  Out of this comes the mutual respect and trust that forms the basis of good societies.

The American writer Stephen Crane once wrote:

"Understand that a man is born into the world with his own pair of eyes, and he is not at all responsible for his vision -- he is merely responsible for his quality of personal honesty."

Crane traveled the world as a war correspondent and against all sound advice restlessly worked himself to death before age 30.  But never once did Crane expect any pity from anyone or draw attention to himself.  He understood that he was "born into the world" with a kind of restless vision that killed him in the end.

Sonia Sotomayor has a different set of eyes, but unlike Stephen Crane she is not being completely honest about them.  America will suffer as a result.