Replacing John Kerry or potential food fight in Massachusetts

John Kerry has not been appointed to anything as of this writing.  He has certainly not been confirmed by the Senate.  Neither of these facts are keeping the speculation about the race to replace him from heading toward some kind of crescendo.  Ben Affleck, Ted Kennedy, Jr., Congressman Ed Markey, or my former boss, Congressman Mike Capuano.  Will one of them get appointed by Governor Deval Patrick as interim and then be allowed to run or will it be Vicki Kennedy or former governor Michael Dukakis neither of whom will run.  Rumors. Rumors and speculation.

One thing I do know is that Scott Brown is running for something.  He just came out in support of an assault weapons ban which is a change in his previous position.  If he votes for the President’s fiscal cliff plan then we can be absolutely certain he is running.  The cynic in me would say that he likes being a senator more than he values loyalty to his party which, by the way, he didn’t mention much in his campaign against Elizabeth Warren.  It is Republican.

But let us play the game.

Ben Affleck and Ted, Jr. both campaigned for Elizabeth Warren.  Both appear to have good solid Democratic left politics.  Both probably have good name recognition (an issue for Ed Markey and Mike Capuano – although if I remember correctly, Mike came in second to Martha Coakley in Democratic primary to run against Scott Brown in the last special election.  Some, including me, said at the time that Mike would have pushed back harder against Brown than Coakley did).

For one, Ted, Jr. doesn’t really live in Massachusetts even though a lot of people probably think he must.  He would have to hurry and change his residence and registration.

The Boston Globe ran a piece speculating on all of this and said this about Ted, Jr.

The younger Kennedy would have to go out and campaign for the seat, just as his relative, Joseph P. Kennedy III, just did with his recent US House campaign.

Edward Jr. could rely on his father’s legacy, but also highlight his own work with the disability community, as well as his private-sector experience heading a New York-based health care advisory firm.

One immediate challenge, though, is residency. Kennedy may spend time each summer at the family compound on Cape Cod, but he lives in Connecticut.

Massachusetts election law does not require US House members to live in their respective House districts, only that they be an “inhabitant” of the state when elected. The same is true for senators, who don’t represent geographical districts but the entire state. Candidates for both offices, however, have to be registered voters in the state to circulate nomination papers.

President John F. Kennedy famously maintained his voter registration at 122 Bowdoin St., an apartment building across from the State House, all the way until his assassination.

Edward Kennedy Jr. would have to make some sort of formal commitment to Massachusetts before voters made a formal commitment to him.

Ironically enough, Hillary Clinton – the person whose departure may clear the path for a special election campaign – did just the same sort of thing in New York before winning her own seat in the US Senate

Then there is Ben.  His mother lives in Cambridge, but I thought he lived in California.  Anyway, I think he probably has the same residency issues as Ted, Jr.  But, hey, if Sonny Bono could become a Congressman.  A better example for Ben would be Al Franken who went home to Minnesota and visited everyone without cracking a joke.  Franken has made himself into a very good senator.  Unfortunately Ben doesn’t have time to do this.  He does go to Senate hearings, however.

Jay Westcott/POLITICO

The Globe didn’t have much to say about Ben, but Politico reported

“That’s not what I’m here to talk about,” Affleck told POLITICO. “I’m here to talk about what role we can place in making the Eastern Congo a better place.”

Earlier this week, reports surfaced that he was being touted as a possible candidate for Senate in Massachusetts. Affleck campaigned for Sen.-elect Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) when she beat freshman Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in November.

So will Massachusetts go for star power, legacy or a seasoned politician?  And the bigger question:  who can beat Scott Brown?

Photograph of Ted Kennedy, Jr. – Brian Snyder/AP

Photograph of Ben Affleck  – Jay Westcott/Politico

The Supreme Court, Baseball and Elena Kagan

Back in April in one of my last posts, I wrote about the Supreme Court.  Today, nominee Elena Kagan responded to questions about Chief Justice John Roberts’ metaphor that being judges is like being umpires.

According to Political.com

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan on Wednesday gently criticized Chief Justice John Roberts’s hotly debated assertion that a Supreme Court justice’s job is “to call balls and strikes” like an umpire, suggesting the description may have misled the public about the work judges do.

 “The metaphor might suggest to some people that law is a kind of robotic enterprise, that there’s a kind of automatic quality to it, that it’s easy, that we just sort of stand there and, you know, we go ball and strike, and everything is clear-cut, and that there is no judgment in the process. And I do think that that’s not right,” Kagan said in response to a question from Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) “It’s especially not right at the Supreme Court level where the hardest cases go and the cases that have been the subject of most dispute go.”

 Kagan went on to imply that Roberts may have downplayed the degree to which judging requires perspective.

 “Judges do, in many of these cases, have to exercise judgment. They’re not easy calls. That doesn’t mean that they’re doing anything other than applying law,” Kagan said. “But we do know that not every case is decided 9-0, and that’s not because anybody’s acting in bad faith. It’s because those legal judgments are ones in which reasonable people can reasonably disagree sometimes. And so in that sense, law — law does require a kind of judgment, a kind of wisdom.”

 Her mild criticism of Roberts was a notable departure for Kagan, who has studiously declined senators’ repeated invitations to discuss her opinions on previous Supreme Court’s decisions or to cast aspersions on the motivations or analytical techniques of the justices.

The hearings have turned into a discussion about what an activist judge looks like.  Is it Justice Thurgood Marshall as some Republicans tried to say an activist judge?  And if he is Elana Kagan will be the same because she clerked for him and will somehow channel him.

Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan has come under an unusual line of attack from Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senators are going after Kagan’s 1988 clerkship for former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first-ever African American justice, who retired in 1991 after helping to bring the court through some of the biggest civil-rights cases in its history. Some Republicans are taking this as an opportunity not only to put Marshall on trial but also make Kagan the chief witness. Here’s what’s happening, why, and what it means.

  • Going After Thurgood Marshall The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank reports, “‘Justice Marshall’s judicial philosophy,’ said Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the No. 2 Republican in the Senate, ‘is not what I would consider to be mainstream.’ Kyl — the lone member of the panel in shirtsleeves for the big event — was ready for a scrap. Marshall ‘might be the epitome of a results-oriented judge,’ he said. Sen. Jeff Sessions (Ala.), the ranking Republican on the panel, branded Marshall a ‘well-known activist.’ Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) said Marshall’s legal view ‘does not comport with the proper role of a judge or judicial method.’ Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) pronounced Marshall ‘a judicial activist’ with a ‘judicial philosophy that concerns me.'”
  • Making Everything About Marshall Talking Points Memo’s Christina Bellantoni reports, “Ranking member Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) criticized Kagan for having ‘associated herself with well-known activist judges who have used their power to redefine the meaning of our constitution and have the result of advancing that judge’s preferred social policies,’ citing Marshall as his son, Thurgood Marshall Jr., sat in the audience of the Judiciary Committee hearings. In an example of how much the GOP focused on Marshall, his name came up 35 times.”

Of course, I think, along with Senators Al Franken,  Patrick Leahy and many others that actually the Roberts’ Court is the activist court.

When Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy called on Franken, Minnesota’s junior Senator got right to his criticism that the current Supreme Court has been favoring powerful corporate interests over the rights of individuals.

Franken talked about how he believes that mandatory arbitration clauses strip Americans of the right to have grievances heard in a neutral court.

“Do you still agree … that one of the glorious things about courts is that they provide a level playing field in all circumstances?” he asked Kagan.

She replied that she agreed “very strongly” with Franken.

Democrats have accused the court — led by Chief Justice John Roberts — of overstepping its role by establishing policy rather than interpreting the law. Franken has been outspoken on the issue. In his time with Kagan, Franken was sharply critical of Chief Justice Roberts.

He accused Roberts and other justices of judicial activism that contradicted their own stated tenets. Franken cited the campaign finance case “Citizens United” as an example of the Robert’s court going beyond specific questions before it.

The landmark ruling this year determined that corporate funding of political broadcasts cannot be limited. It stemmed from a case of a non-profit corporation airing a film critical of Hillary Clinton.

The New York Times reported

Indeed, Ms. Kagan was unusually expansive when talking about matters in which she is already on record. She volunteered that she is not morally opposed to the death penalty, a position she took when she was confirmed as solicitor general. And she spoke freely about this year’s ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, in which the conservative bloc on the court ruled against her, striking down legal limits on corporate spending to influence elections.

Democrats have portrayed that ruling as “conservative judicial activism.” Ms. Kagan — who as solicitor general argued in defense of the campaign finance rules — said she convinced herself in preparing that “we had extremely strong arguments.”

Ms. Kagan also displayed a bit of her law professor side, talking more extensively about abstract issues like how constitutional law develops over time. In a mild challenge to the conservative view that the Constitution can be interpreted based only on the original meaning of its text, she said there were also instances in which the Supreme Court had applied a principle embedded in the Constitution in a new way.

She cited the 1954 case of Brown v. Board of Education, which struck down segregation in schools. The case relied upon the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws, yet Ms. Kagan noted that the amendment’s drafters thought it “perfectly consistent with segregated schools.”

Justice Thurgood Marshall, who as a lawyer argued the Brown case, has emerged as a dominant figure in the hearings. Ms. Kagan clerked for him, and Republicans, led by Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, have attacked Justice Marshall as a liberal “activist” and expressed concerns about Ms. Kagan’s association with him.

On Tuesday, Ms. Kagan told Mr. Kyl that she was not her former boss. “I love Justice Marshall,” she said. “He did an enormous amount for me, but if you confirm me to this position, you’ll get Justice Kagan, you won’t get Justice Marshall. And that’s an important thing.”

I think that Elena Kagan is doing her best to criticize the Republicans and the current conservatives on the Supreme Court as she can without antagonizing her future colleagues.  She isn’t a “progressive activist” (whatever that is), but I think she is smart enough and diplomatic enough to get Justice Kennedy’s vote and maybe even Justice Alito’s vote.

 

Al Franken, Superhero

Really. 

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According to the Minnesota Independent

As we reported this morning, Sen. Al Franken will be the subject of a new comic book that — unlike the one recently created about Rep. Michele Bachmann — is expected to be largely favorable. The maker of the new book, Bluewater Productions, sends artwork for the cover of the new comic, which is part of its Political Power line of biography comics.

According to Michael Cavna’s Comic Riffs blog in the Washington Post

For its line of political comic books, Bluewater Productions has featured such figures as Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin. In May, the publisher will have an entirely new subject.Why? Because — as the old “Saturday Night Live” catchphrase went — he’s Al Franken.

Bluewater announces its bio-comic “Political Power: Al Franken” — to hit comic shops in May — will “trace the senator’s rise ‘from Saturday Night Live’ writer … to radio talk-show host to viable Senate candidate.”

The comic’s writer, Jerome Maida says his research gleaned just how multifaceted Franken is. Maida says he learned that Franken became smitten with comics at a young age and that Franken co-wrote the Meg Ryan/Andy Garcia film “When a Man Loves a Woman,” based it on his own wife’s alcoholism. Maida also notes that his digging showed Franken to be “a real person, a character instead of a caricature.”

Because he’s not just Stuart Smalley.

Bayh Quits and will there be a Senator Mellencamp?

 Evan Bayh decided to call it quits in a decidedly weird and sudden way yesterday.  According to the New York Times Caucus Blog

The decision, which he announced at an afternoon press conference, came as a surprise to Democrats in his state who had already started working on his campaign.

In his remarks, Mr. Bayh expressed frustration at what he described as an increasingly polarized atmosphere in Washington that made it impossible to get anything done.

“For some time, I have had a growing conviction that Congress is not operating as it should,” he said. “There is much too much partisanship and not enough progress. Too much narrow ideology and not enough practical problem solving.”

And while he complimented his colleagues in the Senate, he said that “the institution is in need of significant reform.”

He cited two recent examples of the Senate not stepping up – the voting down of a bipartisan commission to deal with the federal deficit and the stymied attempt to craft a jobs bill.

And so the Democrats will lose the Senator “least likely to vote with his party this Congress.”

The scramble to replace him on the ballot in the fall is on.  The deadline for filing to get on the ballot was today.  (Nice timing there Senator!) and no Democrat qualified.  I don’t know Indiana politics, but it seems unlikely that the primary date and thus the filing date will be moved.  So the state Dems say they can choose their candidate. 

Again, the Times

Now Democrats say they can select their choice, and attention has focused mainly on Representative Brad Ellsworth, a Democrat from Evansville, as well as Representative Baron Hill, Democrat of Seymour. Party officials say they are also exploring other, less well-known names.

One problem is that both Mr. Ellsworth and Mr. Hill plan to qualify this week as House candidates. Republicans say it will not be proper if they do so only to later pull out to run for Senate, leaving Republicans with their House and Senate candidates while Democrats play political musical chairs.

To Republicans, that approach is not quite fair and means that Democrats could actually gain some advantage by Mr. Bayh pulling out just before the deadline for qualifying and allowing Democrats to avoid a Senate primary.

Got that?  If the Republicans are right, maybe Mr. Least Likely to vote with the Dems has actually done something right.

John Nichols over at the Nation is reporting a rumor that some in Indiana are promoting John Mellencamp for Senate. 

The guy who put populist politics on the charts with a song title “Pink Houses” John Mellencamp performed at the White House last week, as part of a program titled: “In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement.”

The Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame member sang the song “Jim Crow” with veteran folkie Joan Baez — as well as a terrific song version of “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” — on a night that also featured performances by Smokey Robinson, Natalie Cole, Yolanda Adams, the Five Blind Boys from Alabama and Bob Dylan, among others.

That was powerful company, but Mellencamp was up to it.

For the past quarter century, he has been penning and performing smart, often very political songs — focusing on the farm crisis, economic hard times and race relations. He’s been a key organizer of Farm Aid and other fund-raising events for good causes, and he’s been a steady presence on the campaign trail in recent years, appearing at the side of numerous Democratic presidential candidates, including Barack Obama.

So, could Mellencamp perform in the U.S. Senate?

Could he be the right replacement for retiring Senator Evan Bayh, D-Indiana?

Don’t forget that Minnesota just elected Al Franken. 

Mellencamp certainly has the home-state credibility. Few rockers have been so closely associated with a state as Mellencamp with Indiana.

Mellencamp has a history of issue-oriented political engagement that is the rival of any of the Democratic politicians who are being considered as possible Bayh replacements.

And Mellencamp has something else. He has a record of standing up for disenfranchised and disenchanted working-class families in places like his hometown of Seymour, Indiana.

In other words, he’s worthy of the consideration that has led to talk of a “Draft John Mellencamp” movement. In fact, he might be just enough of an outlier to energize base votes and to make independent voters look again at the Democratic column.

Could we end up with Senators Franken and Mellencamp? We can dream anyway.

End of the year with Dave Barry

I heard somewhere that President Obama gave himself a B or maybe it was a B- for his first year.  Despite everything that we wished he would do but didn’t and that we wished would happen but hasn’t yet, I think that ends up about right.  While President Obama was grappling with where to even begin to try to change things, it at least appeared that he and the family were having some fun and doing some normal family stuff.  It is so much better to see the President and First Lady doing Halloween or doing a date night or getting ready to attend an event at their kids school than to see W. cutting brush or riding his bike. 

So we should also have some fun looking back at the year.  Last Sunday the Washington Post ran a long recap of the year by Dave Barry

It begins

It was a year of Hope — at first in the sense

of “I feel hopeful!” and later in the sense of “I hope this year ends soon!”

It was also a year of Change, especially in Washington, where the tired old hacks of yesteryear finally yielded the reins of power to a group of fresh, young, idealistic, new-idea outsiders such as Nancy Pelosi. As a result, Washington, rejecting “business as usual,” finally stopped trying to solve every problem by throwing billions of taxpayer dollars at it, and instead started trying to solve every problem by throwing trillions of taxpayer dollars at it.

To be sure, it was a year that saw plenty of bad news. But in almost every instance, there was offsetting good news:

Bad news: The economy remained critically weak, with rising unemployment, a severely depressed real-estate market, the near-collapse of the domestic automobile industry and the steep decline of the dollar.

Good news: Windows 7 sucked less than Vista.

Bad news: The downward spiral of the newspaper industry continued, resulting in the firings of thousands of experienced reporters and an apparently permanent deterioration in the quality of American journalism.

Good news: A lot more people were tweeting.

Bad news: Ominous problems loomed abroad as — among other difficulties — the Afghanistan war went sour, and Iran threatened to plunge the Middle East and beyond into nuclear war.

Good news: They finally got Roman Polanski.

In short, it was a year that we will be happy to put behind us.

The year began with the inauguration

… during which history is made in Washington, where a crowd estimated by the Congressional Estimating Office at 217 billion people gathers to watch Barack Obama be inaugurated as the first American president ever to come after George W. Bush. There is a minor glitch in the ceremony when Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., attempting to administer the oath of office, becomes confused and instead reads the side-effect warnings for his decongestant pills, causing the new president to swear that he will consult his physician if he experiences a sudden loss of sensation in his feet. President Obama then delivers an upbeat inaugural address, ushering in a new era of cooperation, civility and bipartisanship in a galaxy far, far away. Here on Earth, everything stays pretty much the same.

And so it goes, month by month.  Here is a sample from from June

In political news, the Minnesota Supreme Court, clearly exhausted by months of legal wrangling, declares Al Franken the winner of “American Idol.” Meanwhile, the governor of South Carolina, Mark Sanford, goes missing for six days; his spokesperson tells the media that the governor is “hiking the Appalachian Trail,” which turns out to be a slang term meaning “engaging in acts of an explicitly non-gubernatorial nature with a woman in Argentina.” The state legislature ultimately considers impeaching Sanford but changes its mind upon discovering that the lieutenant governor, who got into office through some slick legal maneuvering when nobody was paying attention, is Eliot Spitzer.

And August

California, in a move apparently intended to evade creditors, has its name legally changed to South Oregon.

In an alarming technological development, hackers shut down Twitter, leaving a desperate and suddenly vulnerable America with no way to find out what the Kardashian sisters are having for lunch. The Federal Emergency Management Agency urges the nation to “remain calm” and “use Facebook if you can.” Twitter service is eventually restored, but most of the estimated 875 million thoughts that went untweeted during the outage will never be recovered, making it the nation’s worst social-networking disaster ever.

Don’t forget September

… Obama, speaking on health care before a joint session of Congress, is rudely interrupted by Kanye West, who grabs the microphone and declares that Beyoncé has a better health-care plan. No, wait, sorry: The president is rudely interrupted by Republican congressman Joe Wilson, who shouts, “You lie!” Wilson later apologizes for his breach of congressional etiquette, saying, “I should have just mooned him.”

And in sports

In sports, the New York Yankees, after an eight-year drought, purchase the World Series. But the month’s big sports story involves Tiger Woods, who, plagued by tabloid reports that he has been hiking the Appalachian Trail with a nightclub hostess, is injured in a bizarre late-night incident near his Florida home when his SUV is attacked by golf-club-wielding Somali pirates.

Dave, I still miss reading you every Sunday in the Globe.  You claim to have made up most of the column, but maybe it would have been more fun if it all really happened this way.

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?

Sotomayor: Day One

It was the first day of confirmation hearings for Sonia Sotomayor.  She didn’t get to say much and it is a good thing she has all that experience on the bench where she learned to listen because the Senators all got to make opening statements.  And when she did speak, she was short and to the point as she talked about her background and her judicial philosophy “assuring senators that she believes a judge’s job “is not to make law” but “to apply the law,” as the two parties used her nomination to debate the role of the judiciary.”

Al Franken made his debut as a Senator,

As most of you know, this is my fifth day in office,” he said, as a few people laughed. He then turned somber, saying that he took his oath of office very seriously.

I thought he was clearly a little nervous as he said he represented the common person, the one who is not a lawyer.

But the real kicker was Senator Jeff Sessions.  I think he resented the fact that he never made it though his district court nonination hearings and now had to be the ranking Republican on a Judiciary Committee about to confirm an Hispanic woman to the Supreme Court.  He came off as a bitter, sour old white guy.

Eugene Robinson writes in this morning’s Washington Post

The only real suspense in the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor is whether the Republican Party will persist in tying its fortunes to an anachronistic claim of white male exceptionalism and privilege.

Republicans’ outrage, both real and feigned, at Sotomayor’s musings about how her identity as a “wise Latina” might affect her judicial decisions is based on a flawed assumption: that whiteness and maleness are not themselves facets of a distinct identity. Being white and male is seen instead as a neutral condition, the natural order of things. Any “identity” — black, brown, female, gay, whatever — has to be judged against this supposedly “objective” standard.

Thus it is irrelevant if Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. talks about the impact of his background as the son of Italian immigrants on his rulings — as he did at his confirmation hearings — but unforgivable for Sotomayor to mention that her Puerto Rican family history might be relevant to her work. Thus it is possible for Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) to say with a straight face that heritage and experience can have no bearing on a judge’s work, as he posited in his opening remarks yesterday, apparently believing that the white male justices he has voted to confirm were somehow devoid of heritage and bereft of experience

Amy Klobuchar captured the diversity issue in a different way in her statement as quote in the New York Times live blog on the hearings

In describing their varied experiences, Ms. Klobuchar notes that sitting near her is Senator Whitehouse, who grew up in Laos and Cambodia as the son of a diplomat while she worked as a carhop at the A&W Root Beer stand. In addition, she pointed out, while Senator Hatch is a gospel music songwriter, Mr. Leahy is quite the Dead-head and once had difficulty taking a call from the president because he was onstage at a Grateful Dead concert.

Eugene Robinson again

The whole point of Sotomayor’s much-maligned “wise Latina” speech was that everyone has a unique personal history — and that this history has to be acknowledged before it can be overcome. Denying the fact of identity makes us vulnerable to its most pernicious effects. This seems self-evident. I don’t see how a political party that refuses to accept this basic principle of diversity can hope to prosper, given that soon there will be no racial or ethnic majority in this country.

There is, after all, a context in which these confirmation hearings take place: The nation continues to take major steps toward fulfilling the promise of its noblest ideals. Barack Obama is our first African American president. Sonia Sotomayor would be only the third woman, and the third member of a minority group, to serve on the nation’s highest court. Aside from these exceptions, the White House and the Supreme Court have been exclusively occupied by white men — who, come to think of it, are also members of a minority group, though they certainly haven’t seen themselves that way.

Judging from Monday’s hearing, some Republican senators are beginning to notice this minority status — and seem a bit touchy about it.

Sotomayor confirmation hearing

Day Two, coming up.