Sunday, April 25, 2010

Oboe Players are Per Se Not Ordinary

Some truly lazy journalism by the Washington Post:
From the moment Stevens announced April 9 that he would leave the court, President Obama, Senate Democratic leaders and sometimes fractious liberal advocacy groups have united behind Obama's assertion that the new justice must be, like Stevens, someone who "knows that in a democracy, powerful interests must not be allowed to drown out the voices of ordinary citizens."

That thinking has continued even though none of the perceived front-runners on the list to replace Stevens would seem to embody Obama's requirement that the person have a "keen understanding of how the law affects the daily lives of the American people."

The "front-runners" being referred to here are Garland, Kagan, and Wood. I don't know enough about Garland and Kagan's background to speak to them, but I am baffled as to why Judge Wood can be so casually dismissed as being disconnected from ordinary Americans. A significant part of Judge Wood's background involves her experience as a working mother, raising three kids while trying to advance her professional career. She was somewhat pathbreaking in this role at the University of Chicago (not just for writing the university's first sexual harassment policy).

I think what's going on here is just some bored writer presuming that anybody whose C.V. includes the title "professor" and whose extra-curriculars include playing in an orchestra simply can't be considered an "ordinary American". But Judge Wood's efforts to succeed as a working mother have resonance, I believe, with many people across the country. There is no reason why that should be waved away.


N. Friedman said...

Like the WP article you mention, you too find strings that are meaningless. By your logic, Justice Thomas ought to be among the most sympathetic judges. Which is to say, this is all nonsense.

David Schraub said...

I have no objections to Justice Thomas' sense of sympathy -- I disagree with his judicial philosophy, but I can't say that it acts with disregard towards ordinary Americans (something he does far better, in my view, than any other conservative justice).
See Nicole Stelle Garnett, But for the Grace of God, There Go I: Justice Thomas and the Little Guy, 4 N.Y.U. J.L. & Liberty 626 (2009).

Of course, having overcome hardship or faced difficulties is no guarantee of possessing "sympathy" towards others similarly situated. But the WaPo doesn't make any allegations as to the actual views of Wood, Kagan, or Garland -- it just asserts, without arguing, that they must not possess that understanding.

N. Friedman said...

You have hit on my point, which is that using biography as the means to determine empathy is pretty close to meaningless. Think FDR, a man of privilege but, as I see it, champion of the average and the poor.

KCF said...

Anybody who's had the kind of opportunities you need to have in order to get to be even remotely qualified for the Supreme Court is, by definition, privileged. Since Obama doesn't really have the option of choosing a nominee who isn't qualified, whoever he chooses is going to have a lot of privileges that the average American doesn't, even if she is underprivileged in some ways. We therefore need some way other than biography of evaluating the nominee's ability to understand an ordinary person's position. Finding someone exactly as privileged as the "average American," whatever that is, isn't possible and probably wouldn't be desirable even if it was.

joe said...

"Ordinary [or hardworking, or everyday, or average] Americans" is a pretty politicized term. So maybe the writer is just working off a POV that doesn't see working women, or at least professional women, as within the norm. Or that the readership is basically anti-Obama and doesn't see any nomination he'd make as being for the common people. You know, Silent Majority stuff.

At first I thought this was the Murdoch-owned New York Post, which would really have explained it.

And the conversation was a few days old, but I added some new thoughts to "Culture of Impunity."

Andrew said...

David and Joe, I don't even think the laziness needs that deep an understanding - the conservatives have framed liberal elites as out of touch. The candidates are (at least by their assumption) liberal, and are clearly elite. Therefore, they are out of touch. QED. This is WaPo after all.

I don't think they think professional women are outside or that their readership is anti-Obama - they're just spouting the same tired conventional wisdom driven by the conservative noise machine that people at WaPo always spout. Nothing new.