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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Time in a bottle

You know by now that in the campus culture wars it’s always 1987, Allan Bloom has set the terms for discussion, Shakespeare has been displaced by Alice Walker (or Maya Angelou, in this just-published-yet-1987ish screed by Harry “I Used To Be a Liberal, But Since Murphy Brown Had a Baby I’ve Become Outraged By Women Who Have As Much Sex As I Used To” Stein), and deconstruction is a really big menace to Western Civilization.  (Though I should probably update that old Crooked Timber post: two years ago, in the course of criticizing Ross Douthat, I wondered “why a once-respected literary magazine like the Atlantic would want to offer gigs to people who find it ‘obviously’ depressing that writers like Woolf and Morrison are widely read and studied,” and now I should be wondering why such people get gigs on the New York Times op-ed page.  Who knows?  Perhaps so that they can continue to work out their embarrassing anxieties about women in a public forum.)

Well, to understand the Sonia Sotomayor fracas you have to realize that the timespace confundulum has actually fractured into two frozen moments, one having to do with the sudden appearance of emotional, abrasive Latinas and their strange cuisine amid the eating clubs of Princeton, and the other having to do with ungrateful women of color getting named to positions where they can dole out their reverse-racist versions of “justice.” Yes, that’s right, it’s always 1972 and it’s always 1993—and at the same time.

I didn’t get admitted to anything in 1972.  But in 1974, I was a freshman at Regis High School in New York, where I heard one of my more conservative classmates say, in the course of a discussion about affirmative action, that he had been the victim of reverse discrimination for too long.  Exasperated to the point of flummoxation, I noted in reply that (a) affirmative action showed up only yesterday, (b) you’re thirteen years old, d00d, and (c) you’re attending an elite, tuition-free Jesuit high school that does not admit women.  And the reason I remember that moment 35 years later is that it has never gone away: guys like Stuart Taylor and Fred Barnes are still thirteen years old, still the victims of reverse discrimination, and still questioning the credentials of smart women while campaigning for the protection of conservative white men under the Endangered Species Act.  Taylor graduated from Princeton in 1970; Barnes from the University of Virginia in 1965.  Neither of them had to compete with women for admission; Princeton started opening its doors to that half of the population in 1969, Virginia a year later.  That’s why guys like these worry so much about the decline of standards in college admissions since 1970, you understand.  Because things were tougher and people were smarter when white guys only had to compete with 44 percent of the population for admission to elite colleges, positions of power and influence, and so forth.

(Though as a Regis graduate, I have to say that if Barnes had taken four years of Latin, he might not say such world-historically stupid things as “you know, there’s some schools and maybe Princeton’s not one of them, where if you don’t get Summa Cum Laude then or some kind of Cum Laude, you then, you’re a D+ student,” because he would know that “summa” is Latin for “teh most r0xx0r,” and not for “some kind of.” Then again, he would probably say some other world-historically stupid things anyway.  There are some things even four years of Latin can’t fix.)

“Ah, that explains everything, Michael,” you say, “except that it doesn’t.  You can’t tell me that Jeffrey Rosen’s exercise in gossip-mongering elite journalism, for which blogging is to blame, has anything to do with its author’s educational history.”

Right you are, threadbare rhetorical device interlocutor!  The Rosen thing has nothing to do with 1972.  That’s where the it’s-always-1993 part comes in!  Lani Guinier has just been nominated to head the civil rights division of the Department of Justice, and Even the Liberal New Republic has just published its editorial, “Withdraw Guinier.”

See, Republicans know, or seem to know, that they don’t have enough Senate votes to reject Sotomayor, and don’t have the political capital (though they probably have enough hypocrisy left in the national hypocrisy reserve) to mount a filibuster.  Ah, but if they can only get Obama to withdraw her name—what a lovely embarrassment to the new administration that would be.  And what good times those were for Beltway conservatives!  Tell me again why Clinton fans believe that their guy knew how to stand up to the right-wing noise machine?

Here’s how we know that we’ve never left Lani Guinier Land:

– Faux outrage over “controversial” out-of-context “identity politics” remarks, check;

– Complaints about weird, unpronounceable-in-American last name, check;

– Leading conservative intellectual Newt Gingrich, preparing for his accession to the position of Speaker of the House the Presidency, calling openly for Sotomayor’s withdrawal, check;

– A bit of genteel dishonesty and race-baiting from “leading conservative scholar on race relations” Abigail Thernstrom, calling Sotomayor “a quintessential spokesman for racial spoils,” check; and finally,

– Pat Buchanan tells us we’re in Lani Guinier Land in so many words.

So: no wang chunging tonight, people!  The Spin Doctors are playing tonight, and we’re alone again, naturally.


Yes, I know “Time in a Bottle” is from 1973, not 1972.  That’s because its release was delayed a year by Roberta Flack, thanks to the affirmative-action programs then in place on AM radio playlists.

Posted by Michael on 06/03 at 11:49 AM
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