Supreme Court justice hearings as political theater

By Amanda Marcotte
Monday, July 13, 2009 21:19 EDT
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Confession: I haven’t had the stomach to flip on the TV and watch the Sotomayor hearings, because I have so little tolerance for the charade that there’s no such as fundamental political differences that inform the process. Judges pretending they don’t have opinions, Republican Senators pretending they have any intention of actually considering Sotomayor’s qualifications and basing their votes on that, the fundamental bullshit underlying the process in general annoys me to no end. I’ve been following the online text-based coverage and the tweets from my tweeps with stronger stomachs than mine, but the urge to keep C-SPAN shut off all day has won out.

The outcome of this thing is easy enough to predict. Republicans will pretend to be outraged that Sotomayor is “racist” because she doesn’t believe that white people are better than everyone else, though perhaps they’ll branch out into arguments about how she’s not a woman because she’s both female and adult and she’s not a judge because she writes court decisions. Democrats will use their majority to push her appointment through. She’ll then take her spot on the court as a moderate liberal and not much will change. And there will be more retirements, and new versions of the same charade.

What this is, then, is a chance for Republicans to do nothing substantive while conducting a bit of political theater to send the message that white people are the target of racist oppression that will keep white people from their rightful spot of completely dominating all power. I have very little doubt that this hearing will go down in wingnut lore right next to “Bill Clinton got a blow job and I didn’t even get a T-shirt”, both in terms of resentment and longevity. They have a lot of resentment bones and they’ll be dragging this one out and chewing on it from here until the end of time whenever they want to kick up some genuinely racist resentments, instead of the faux racist ones that are the only ones Republicans will even consider pretending to believe in. Long after the rest of the world has realized that this was all a fuss over nothing, wingnuts will trot out this hearing as evidence that the only people who suffer the slings and arrows of racism are white people who have lost their right to get first shot at every prestigious job.

Indeed, I suspect that Republicans trotting out sad stories of white firemen who actually won their Supreme Court cases think that this political theater against Sotomayor is a win for them. As the enthusiasm for Sarah Palin that is unmuddied by the strong sense that she’s a moron demonstrates, Republicans are still strong believers in the power of resentment to substitute for actual arguments or meaning. And usually, I’m worried about this tendency, because there’s a historical track record that demonstrates that Republican claims of victimhood because they have to share even small amounts of power with non-dudes and non-whites have been effective at rallying the troops, even rallying some troops that are too stupid to realize that their own whiteness doesn’t mean that Republicans intend to let them into the power circle. But in this case, I think the tide has turned just enough that Republicans are going to feel the pinch of diminishing returns. If this blows up as big as Republicans hope it will as political theater, they’re not going to gain any voters, but they will piss off a lot of Hispanic voters who are unlikely to be fooled by the pretend concern about “reverse” racism. And if they insist on digging up and chewing on this bone repeatedly after Sotomayor takes her highly distinguished place on the Supreme Court, it will just confirm that Republicans will not hesitate to put racism above basic common sense.

I just hope that Obama appoints another woman for his next Supreme Court judge. We need to get past token representation, and frankly, I think the public’s lost its willingness to believe that having a more diverse leadership is some sort of hostile takeover/attempt to enslave white men. For a long time now, it’s been apparent that the straight white male resentment strategy would have diminishing returns for Republicans, because it’s basically a strategy of trying to appeal to an aging, shrinking population. They only even half-assed attempt to address the demographic issues that face them has been a smattering of completely unbent anti-choice nuts who try to bully white women out of their jobs and into the maternity wards to have large broods and become more patriarchal in general, but even the party that indulged the Iraq War fantasy can’t really imagine getting a Republican breeding program under way. There’s just not much they can do about the changing demographics in America right now, and we might be seeing the beginning of what that means.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
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