Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Balkin on the Politics of Racial Resentment

Jack Balkin over at Balkinization has a very thoughtful post on the Sotomayor and what he calls the declining utility of the politics of racial resentment.

Balkin argues that the racialized attacks on Sotomayor's nomination by the Republicans on the judiciary committee are not likely to be effective because the base that the Republicans are appealing to have shrunk considerably. Although I've advanced a similar argument over at Politico's Arena, I'm a bit less sure than Jack. The Republicans on the judiciary committee are presenting a united racialized attack. I am assuming that they are rational actors and believe that they have enough straw to make hay. I think they've miscalculated but I'm not so sure.

Moreover, it may be the case that all the Republicans need to do is to frame Sotomayor and more importantly Obama as angry racial opportunists who do not have the best interest of the country (white America) in mind. (Note that so far, these hearings have been almost as much about the President as they have been about the putative nominee) 

I know what you're thinking: isn't this what they did during the election and did it not fail miserably? Yes, on both counts. This is why Jack is not worried. 

But suppose that the economy does not get better and indeed gets worse. Suppose that the unemployment rate continues to go up. Suppose that more people lose their homes. At the same time, the black President is busy appointing Latinas to the Supreme Court, blacks as surgeon generals, women as secretaries of states, etc. 

What struck me watching the hearings is that the Republican attack is an attack on the competency of people of color. Their competency to lead, to make judgments, to determine when their perspectives are rightly called upon and best left behind. 

Might the politics of racial resentment not make a comeback. I'm betting against it, but I am not betting the farm.

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