What Affirmative Action Means in Real Life

Sonia Sotomayor is now officially Justice Sotomayor.  She took the oath administered by Chief Justice John Robert a few minutes ago.

On Thursday afternoon when the Senate voted to confirm her, the newest Senator, Al Franken the former comedian from Minnesota, was presiding and announced the vote.  Is this a great country or what?

Anita Hill has a very interesting Op-Ed in today’s Boston Globe discussing the role of what she calls “educational democracy” played in Justice Sotomayor’s elevation to the Supreme Court.

A LATINA from a Bronx housing project is probably not what Woodrow Wilson envisioned when he called for “educational democracy’’ as president of Princeton University in 1910. Yet decades later, when Sonia Sotomayor ascended to the top of her class, his idea of an open and accessible university system was on its way to coming to fruition. In Wilson’s day, Princeton admitted no women and Wilson himself is said to have looked with disfavor on the admission of men of color. Nevertheless, educational reform was a springboard for his larger aims of social and political reform and his fight against “the rule of materialism in our national life.’’

Indeed, Wilson would have needed a high-definition crystal ball to foresee Sotomayor’s “incredible journey’’ to become an African-American president’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Yet, as a critical chapter in our country’s pursuit of educational equality, her story of hard work and high achievement is an extension of Wilson’s idea. She represents the positive change that can occur when social institutions – law and education in particular – shed their roles as tools for exclusion and open their doors to those previously barred. It took nearly 220 years for the first Latina justice to be appointed to the Supreme Court, but, in a country constitutionally committed to equal opportunity, it was inevitable.

It was under President Wilson that women gained the right to vote – a reward for suspending demonstrations for suffrage during World War I.  And I’ve always thought that Edith Wilson had influence here also even though I don’t believe that any historical facts have ever surfaced to proved this.

Hill goes on

Sotomayor is poised to prove that the social experiment of the 1970s built on the idea of educational democracy has, thus far, worked. For its full realization, President Obama must correct the documented shortcomings of public schools that weigh most heavily on poor and minority community schools. We can’t be satisfied with one Sonia Sotomayor when we have the potential for so many more. For now, with her confirmation as the first Latina and third woman on the Supreme Court, Obama has reminded us of what egalitarian ideals and the will to pursue them can accomplish.

I think Hill is right.  Educational democracy leads to a critical mass of women, African Americans, or other ethnic minorities ready to take on jobs and challenges that have not been open to them in the past.  This leads to a cascade of changes in our society such as the election of the first African American President. 

I think it is the loss of this exclusivity that has the white Republican men on the Senate Judiciary Committee so frightened.  Perhaps they have seen all along where affirmative action or educational democracy was going to lead and why they have been so opposed to change.  But that is probably giving them too much credit and they are just frightened of change that puts them in a position where they are no longer superior.  One where they have to share power and priviledge.

Congratuations, Justice Sotomayor!  And may the President’s next appointment be someone as wise as you.  Perhaps a wise Asian American man or woman or a wise African American woman.  Mary Frances Berry, anyone?

Liar, Liar

Interesting story on NPR tonight.  A group called PoliFact is following the health care debate.

Bill Adair, editor of PolitiFact and the Washington bureau chief for the St. Petersburg Times, tells Melissa Block that one group that opposes an overhaul says the health care bill allows illegal immigrants to get free medicine.

“We gave that our lowest rating on our Truth-O-Meter: a pants on fire,” he says. “To the contrary, there’s language [in the bill] that says that undocumented aliens would not be eligible for the credit under this plan.”

The claim came from a chain e-mail that included many other assertions, including one that said a “health choices commissioner” would decide health benefits and that individual consumers would have no choices. This claim, too, got a “pants on fire” from PolitiFact.

“This chain e-mail is very persuasive in many ways because it has specific language, page numbers from the bill, but when you look at what it uses to back up a claim like that, it’s just not true,” Adair says. “There is a health commissioner that would be responsible for running the exchange under the main bills that have been discussed, but it’s not like that person would say you couldn’t get coverage or you could. That person would just be responsible to administer what the general standards were for the programs.”

Bogus claims aren’t just coming from those who oppose an overhaul. Democratic Rep. Russ Carnahan of Missouri recently claimed that the Congressional Budget Office estimated the current plan would create a $6 billion surplus over 10 years. Adair’s group has rated that as false.

“That really was a little bit of budget trickery there,” he says. “He is wrong that the CBO said this. The CBO said that the health care plan would post a deficit of something like $239 billion, something like that.

“What he’s doing is including some other numbers to try to erase that and actually make it look like a $6 billion surplus, but that’s not what the CBO says.”

Very interesting.

Where are the Republican Ideas?

The Democrats have large majorities in the House and Senate.  The President is a Democrat.  I believe the majority of governors are also now Democrats.  And being Democrats, they are bickering among themselves about the details of things they all agree need to be done.  It seems to me this would be a perfect opportunity for the Republicans to offer a substantial plan on, say health care.  Instead, we have the birther movement.  Newsweek has published the President’t birthcertificate to celebrate his birthday.

But the birthers are sure this is fake.

Back to health care.  Congress is back home this month and holding town meetings.  Instead of offering alternative and maybe asking some reasonable questions, the Republican strategy is to scream and disrupt these meetings.  In fairness to them, this is not a tactic they invented (as much as Dick Armey’s lobbying firm might want to think they did).  Chris Hayes  in his blog in the Nation looks at the situation this way

I’m on a team in American politics: I’m proudly, vigorously on the left. So there’s no need to bend over backwards to be formally consistent. That said, intellectual honesty requires one to separate out one’s formal objections from substantive ones and I’ve been given pause by the remarks of some right-wing activists like Jon Henke. He and others have been saying: wait a sec, when the left shows up and makes noise somewhere it’s activism, but when the right does it it’s thuggery and mob rule?

So after discussing the issue on Maddow last night, I’ve been asking myself, aside from the deep substantive opposition I have to the tea-baggers’ ideological agenda (and the insane hypocrisy of people on Medicare screaming about the dangers of government-run health care), what, exactly, my beef is?

I don’t think there’s anything “wrong” with the tactics of those people who, with the facilitation of large monied interests, are organizing and shouting down their opponents at town hall meetings. But one thing should be clear: these are the tactics of a small, motivated, enraged and engaged minority. The footage of recent town hall scrums remind me, actually, of ACT-UP actions back in NYC when I was growing up. ACT-UP, the AIDS and gay rights group that flourished in the 1980s and 1990s, was impassioned and angry and used dramatic confrontational action to great public effect. They were a vanguard. They were a small, tightly coordinated impassioned minority. And they were fundamentally on the right side of history.

What frustrates me, however, is that no one in the press confused ACT-UP with broader public opinion. No pundits said “the public is clearly feeling rising unease about government inaction on AIDS, as evidenced by the latest ACT-UP protest.” Why? Because they were gay, and they had AIDS and they didn’t look like “average citizens” or “heartland” voters.

At their root, the town hall protests are a very similar phenomenon. I think these people, unlike ACT-UP, are wrong. Deeply wrong. (They’re also not literally fighting for their lives because of a homophobic and indifferent government, but that’s neither here nor there). But they’re a small, tightly coordinated, enraged minority. They want to scream and fuss, it’s a free country, as they say.

The problem is the overwhelming instinct on the part of pundits and the MSM to look, and see old white men in overalls and Legionnaire hats and think they are watching someone give voice to the sentiments of broad swaths of the electorate. And it’s just not true. What we’re seeing at these events are the voices of radicals, extremists and zealots.

Harold Myerson writing in the Washington Post points out that the protesters are overwhemingly not people of color.

Last weekend, right-wing Republicans stormed a number of such meetings across the country, shouting down members of the House and, in Philadelphia, Sen. Arlen Specter and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. In Austin, protesters blocked Democratic Rep. Lloyd Doggett’s car and made it impossible for him to talk to constituents about such matters as appointments to military academies.

What’s particularly curious about these two protests is that they took place on very liberal turf — Philadelphia and Austin — yet the local liberals and people of color seemed absent. Philadelphia is a heavily African American city, yet one strains to see any blacks among the protesters on the YouTube clips. The activists who have been whipped into a frenzy, and who have dominated the recess meetings so far, appear to be conservative whites.

The question, as Meyerson goes on to ask, is why aren’t people of color, the young folks who worked for Obama, the progressives and the liberals turning out for the town hall meetings?   Meyerson again

When future historians look back at this passage in our nation’s history, I suspect they’ll conclude that this Obama-isn’t-American nuttiness refracted the insecurities and, in some cases, the hatred that a portion of conservative white America felt about having a black president and about the transformation of what many thought of as their white nation into a genuinely multiracial republic. But whatever the reasons, a mobilized minority is making a very plausible play to thwart a demobilized majority.

So we have a black President that one whole segment of the population (77% of Americans think he is a citizen but only 42% of Republicans think he is)  thinks is not really not President trying to reverse the slide into economic inequality and to promote racial equality at the same time.  This is a time when we should be having great debates about ideas not screaming at each other about where the President was born.

A genuine debate about ideas would help create better legislation and make the Democrats sharpen their ideas.  Maybe it would get those of us who support health care reform out to town hall meetings to talk about ideas.  But, unfortunately, the Republican party seems to be out of ideas.