Sunday, October 02, 2005

Speaking Double

Maybe it's just me, but I found this post at Southern Appeal, regarding Bush's upcoming choice for the next Supreme Court Justice, to be a mite disturbing. Most of it was just standard conservative pining for conservative Supreme Court nominees. I don't care about that (well, I do, but it's nothing newsworthy). However, when the author, "Rice Grad," started talking about gender and ethnicity, things got a bit odd:
2. Hopefully NOT be a woman.
I'd like President Bush to resist -- as he did in originally nominating Judge Roberts to O'Connor's seat -- establishing SCOTUS seats as "female," "black," or "Hispanic" seats. The Supreme Court belongs to the nation, not to particular demographic or interest groups.

However, I think it's great to have another woman on the court. When abortion is restricted in any way (eg, overturning Stenberg, which allowed partial birth abortions), it would be nice politically to have another woman on the court. That's a pretty big concern.

Therefore, I lean slightly against picking a woman, partly in the hope that Bush will have the opportunity for another Supreme Court nomination. Then, he could and should nominate a woman.

3. The nominee ought be Hispanic.
I believe strongly that the greatest challenge to our nation is assimilating Hispanic immigrants. The US has always succeeded in assimilating ethnic groups, with forced African immigrants being the lone exception.

As a Republican, I likewise think the greatest long-term challenge is to ensure that Hispanics vote for Republicans in growing numbers. If we lose Hispanics in Texas, we lose Texas, which means that Democrats win the presidency for the forseeable future.

Nominating a Hispanic like Estrada furthers both goals. If Democrats fight Estrada, then that will be a very high-profile slap in the face to what used to be a reliable constituency for the Democrats.

Furthermore, Estrada is an immigrant, which speaks to how dynamic American society is.

This just seems to suffer from a bad version of cognitive dissonance to me. He doesn't want a woman because doing so would make this seat into a "woman's seat," and the Supreme Court is supposed to represent the entire nation (apparently, eight of nine residents of "the nation" are male. No wonder finding a date is so difficult). At the same time, he demurs slightly--it would be nice to have a woman on the court to deflect negative press on abortion decisions. And these political considerations carry the day for Hispanic nominees. Apparently, we are told, Bush should pick his Supreme Court justice with an eye on keeping Texas in the GOP column for the foreseeable future. And the way to do this is, as it turns out, is inextricably connected to having a guy with a name like "Estrada" on the Court.

We are thus led to believe several interesting premises. The first is that in selecting a member for a (nominally) non-partisan post, one in which we are told again and again that the nominees should look past their personal ideologies and to what the constitution "says," it is undesirable to select a candidate on racial or sexual grounds, but perfectly just to pick one on purely political grounds that happen to mirror racial or sexual ones. Second, Rice is willing to recognize identity politics only as far as he can exploit them. The idea that women or Hispanics might vote in an easily manipulable hoard (wave Estrada in front of them, and they'll follow) flows just fine, but the idea that they might have something useful to say or add to our judicial perspective is summarily dismissed (again, except insofar as a woman could be used as a human shield on abortion cases). Third, Rice seems genuinely torn about putting another woman on the Supreme Court. Ultimately, he concludes that the worst scenario would be to put a woman on the Court to put a woman on the Court (or, to be more charitable, to put a woman's perspective on). The ideal scenario is to put a woman on the Supreme Court, but to be absolutely clear that it's not because she's valuable as a woman, no sir-ee Bob. Of course, it's not because she's valuable as an intelligent jurist either--Rice justifies it on her being a useful political tool. The upshot of the entire thing is basically "we should pay attention to race and ethnicity only and as far as where we can reap political rewards for it." Is it any wonder that this "occasionally" devolves into race-baiting? I am at a loss about why what Rice is doing could even be justified as "equivalent" to liberal calls for equal representation (hell, representation, period)--let alone "better than."

This is a rather twisted form of color-blindness. It isn't actually color-blind, it is very cognizant of race (and gender). However, it "notices" these factors not to benefit their beholders (or to marginalize them), but to benefit US and marginalize THEM (in this case, defined politically). It is a complete, utter, and overt objectification. There's no agency or autonomy. Indeed, the implicit argument being made in Rice's piece is that we should actively seek a white male candidate (he puts it in the reverse, that we should avoid pandering to minority "interest groups", but effect is the same), but for the political benefits that we can gain by using the minority group properly. That's what the dilemma for Rice comes down to--between doing something good for the non-dominant races/gender (bad), and doing something good for the dominant (mostly white, mostly male) party (good). And if we remember that, in this case, not doing something good for minorities = doing something good for the majority, then the conflict becomes even starker: how do we best enhance the interests of white males? Woman and minorities are just a prop in the play--the only they're recognized as potentially independent actors, it's portrayed as some sort of threat ("Texas might go Democrat!").

It is posts like this which give credence to assaults on color-blindness. Color-blindness is impossible because it can always be recast into something else, especially something statistical: people more likely to vote Democrat or Republican, people more likely to commit crimes, people more likely to be pro-choice. At the point where these things can as nakedly be used as proxies for race, it's fair to say that race remains relevant.

1 comment:

Isaac said...

Nice catch. It is utterly bizarre.

Any comment on Miers? All I can say is I'm thrilled that a math major is in the spotlight, for I believe that math confers on all who study it a certain moral intelligence that is not attainable in any other manner.

Cheers.