I watched several hours of the Sotomayor Supreme Court nomination yesterday and today on C-Span. What a relief! I wish I had the time to watch the whole thing that way.
Surprisingly, or maybe not, without the usual network and cable news talking heads, but just watching the proceedings as they unfolded, I was struck with not only her reasoned and thoughtful her answers were, but with the same qualities in many of the Senators.
My father was a smalltime politician, he chaired the local Democratic Party much in the old “ward heeler” style of machine politics in mid-20th century New Jersey. What I learned from him and from observing (I started putting flyers under windshields in the church parking lot and handing them out at the train station at a very early age, and by ten was already working the phones to get out the vote—my older sisters and brothers driving people to the polls) the way the people I encountered through him worked, was not only a lesson in real life politics, but also the reality that most people who get involved in politics really do want to help people.
I believe that’s still the case. Even though there are limitations to how much can be accomplished given the variables of the two-party system and the legal and political realities, and the temptations of power (my father always warned me about how corrupt Washington DC was, not politically corrupt, but sinfully, as in extramarital—and what was considered then deviant—sex etc.).
Obviously there are those who fall prey to all of the power tripping and perks or who get into politics for just those things in the first place.
But I believe a majority are at least initially inspired by idealism. Those who become truly successful at politics, FDR is a good example as president, or Teddy Kennedy as a Senator, or despite his overplaying his hand and his elected career ending sooner than he expected, Newt Gingrich as a Congressman, are I believe pretty consistently motivated by ideals and ideas about what’s best for the country or the district they represent.
I think that was a given, accepted as a truism when I was a boy, but because of the vitriolic kind of partisanship perfected by the Republican strategist Lee Atwater (and denounced by him on his deathbed) too many citizens today believe all politicians as sell outs and only in it for themselves.
I didn’t like the condescending way Lindsay Graham kept asking Sotomayor a question and then interrupting her answer, lecturing her about “temperament” etc. (like Republican Supreme Court justices Thomas and Scalia haven’t displayed “temperament”!) but I appreciated the candor of his positions and I believe he truly believes them.
Another Republican I heard some of, Sessions, was hard to take since his record is one of vitriolic partisanship and as some see it real racism—calling the NAACP “un-American” when the exact opposite is true—or a fellow white man “a disgrace to his race” for standing up against discrimination, etc. But I believe he’s mostly standing up for what he thinks is right. Or that Oklahoma Republican today who kept trying to trap Sotomayer and cast her as some kind of leftist fanatic who would kill babies and take away citizens’ guns etc. (after he hypocritically criticized others for not treating her kindly even if they disagreed with her), despite his attempts to distort her record and statements, I got the impression he really believes a lot of what he was defending.
Of course the Democratic Senators for the most part displayed much more reasonable perspectives and more civil questioning, and a lot of that can be attributed to their being in the majority and this being a Democratic president’s choice, but if you look back on the Roberts and Alito hearings, even there the Dems were not as aggressive in attacking or trying to trap those nominees as the Republicans have been these past few days.
And that I almost lament. I’d like to see Democratic Senators and Congresspeople, as well as the President and VP go on the attack more often against rightwing Republicans and rightwing Republicanism as the threat to our democracy and traditions and founding documents it truly has proven to be. But, fortunately or unfortunately, it isn’t in the natures of the mostly moderate Democrats to attack, but rather to consider and try to draw reasoned and logical conclusions. Much like Sotomayer has been doing in these hearings.