The Blog

The New York Times Profiles Sonia Sotomayor's 'Rich Experience' in at Least Two NYC Boroughs

4:05 PM, Jul 10, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

I made the mistake this morning of reading a front-page profile of Sonia Sotomayor in the New York Times. If that information alone isn't enough to prove I should have known better, this was the headline:

"To Get to Sotomayor's Core, Start in New York: Milestones in Work and Life, Set to a City's Rhythms"

In this profile, we find that Sonia is both everyman and Renaissance woman, who power-walks the Brooklyn Bridge and power-lunches in the village. Swoon. We are informed, in the first three paragraphs, that she throws Christmas parties "where judges and janitors spill into the hallway" and is "godmother to the children of lawyers and secretaries alike." (Aren't they executive assistants these days? But I digress.)

This is the kind of ostentatious, self-conscious bean-counting of the disadvantaged with which only urbane liberals can be comfortable, both in their personal lives and public policy. Are Sotomayor's relationships illustrative of her character? Sure, and they reveal she's a basically decent person (just like many federal judges-even some of the strict constructionists!). Unless, of course, Sotomayor approaches her relationships in the same way the New York Times reporter writes about them- collecting blue-collar chits and counting friends of color as karmic cool points.

Sotomayor, as we've been informed ad nauseam, has a compelling life story that started in a low-income, mostly single-parent Puerto Rican home in the Bronx. It is not at all surprising that she has connections with both the community she came from and the tony world to which she rose. One would hope that she treats those relationships with more authenticity than the reporter, who paints them into gauche, low-income caricatures on the progressive tableau of Sotomayor's life. (Oh, look dahling! She was kind enough to invite the janitors. How delightfully real and tolerant and New York of her.)

Sotomayor herself even becomes a caricature in the hands of the writer, so very anxious is he to inform you of both her superiority as a woman of color steeped in the grit and culture of the City of New York, and by extension (and perhaps more importantly), his liberal superiority in recognizing her as such.

Sotomayor didn't just advise clerks and invite them into her home, naturally attentive to those in whom she saw her own struggles. No, that would be so average (and is likely true of every Justice on the high court). Visiting Sonia Sotomayor is "akin to seeing a Puerto Rican tía, an aunt, replete with dishes of rice and chicken." Oh, the duality! I'm simultaneously aching at the profundity and totally impressed that he knows the word, "tia" (and how to make an accent mark on the keyboard).Now, one could argue that Sotomayor is close to a caricature of a different kind, which the writer never addresses- the grievance-mongering, race-conscious, modern liberal, equally at home with quotas, back-room deals, and bullying for the greater good, defying the patriarchy even if it means betraying the very "equality" she purports to support. Had I been the writer of this profile, I might have noted that "her annual Christmas party looks, fittingly, as if she had administered a test to possible attendees, but when it did not yield appropriately diverse guests, she summarily uninvited the qualifying guests based upon race and dismissed their pleas for consideration on merit instead of skin color. Also, the cocktail wieners were good."

But that would be cynical, and I have hope that Sotomayor's personal life might be the only place where she's not obsessively bean-counting and hegemony-harping.

Moving on, the writer employs several more hallmarks of the self-involved, New York-centric profile. Reference to "The Warriors" and a Woody Allen flick? Check. Barely concealed preference for the allegedly authentic, crime-ridden New York of days gone by over Rudy Giuliani's clean, safe "Disney-flavored New York of recent vintage?" Check.