Both Rush Limbaugh and Pat Buchanan have attacked Sonia Sotomayor as an "affirmative action hire." The suggestion here is that Sotomayor is somehow academically or intellectually undistinguished. But let's assume for a minute here that Sotomayor was accepted to Princeton partially on the basis of her race--she then proceeded to distinguish herself by graduating summa cum laude and earning the Pyne Prize, which is the highest undergraduate award Princeton can bestow. AA might get you into college, but there's no AA point system that helps minorities get to the top of their class. In other words, if Sotomayor benefited from affirmative action, then she's nothing other than an example of affirmative action working the way it's supposed to, precisely because whatever boost she had gaining access to these institutions, she then proceeded to distinguish herself as an exceptional student by any standard. (Dana makes a similar argument here.)

There's also a conservative catch-22 here -- conservatives argue that AA "stigmatizes" minorities by suggesting they haven't earned their accomplishments, but any time a person of color is in the running for a prominent position they proceed to stigmatize them as furiously as possible. Kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, I'm curious. I wonder, for Limbaugh and Buchanan how many Ivy League degrees does a person of color have to have before they're as good as a white person, and no longer reducible to an "affirmative action hire"? Clearly it's more than two, since Sotomayor and the president each have two and they've faced similar criticisms. Is it three? Four? How exactly do we score academic prizes and such? Do they count?

-- A. Serwer

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