I love Sonia Sotomayor because she's street-smart, because she's got a huge heart, and because she understands the new diversity of America. And I'm a little shocked to read the leaked letter from eminent Harvard prof Laurence Tribe to Barack Obama a couple years ago, deriding Sotomayor and praising Elena Kagan and Diane Wood because they're so much smarter than Sotomayor.
My new theme is the complete alienation of the Democratic Party from populist values; and this letter exhibits that arrogance. Its insistence on intelligence as the chief criterion for promotion is meritocratic horsefeathers, SAT thinking. "[Sotomayor] is not nearly as smart as she seems to think she is," Tribe writes snidely, and she's a bully. Well I like a bully on the Supreme Court. How else do you muscle Scalia and Roberts and Thomas?
And yes there's a Jewish component here, in that we helped to build the meritocracy; although Wood is not Jewish. (And I wonder where Tribe is on Israel, probably retro). But the key issue: Where is Kagan's ferocious commitment to the underdog, a commitment that animates Sotomayor, and one that privileged Laurence Tribe doesn't really care about when a good job is on the line. He adores Kagan's "combination of intellectual brilliance and political skill." Soulless. This is the challenge to liberal Democrats in the age of economic meltdown: what does progressive mean beyond abortion rights and shopping at Whole Foods?