Jeff Rosen has been raked over the coals for his not-positive assessment of Sonia Sotomayor. What I find remarkable is this -- Rosen was being so cautious and careful that he acknowledged his limitations in passing judgment, a good and responsible thing to do, and his humility is being used as a lacerating strike against him.
As Ta-Nehisi points out, this kind of "humility" is an inadequate substitute for, you know, actual reporting.
Reihan wants us to lay off on Rosen because he exercised "humility." But "humility" is the floor for a decent writer--not the ceiling. You don't get credit for not beating your wife. You don't get credit for admitting that you didn't do your job.
The problem isn't that Rosen acknowledged his "limitations in passing judgment," it's that he freely admitted he didn't have enough information to pass judgment, and that he then filled in the blanks with a series of racial and gender stereotypes common to any person of color who has ever made it to the Ivy League. I don't know whether Rosen did so intentionally, and ultimately I don't really care. This isn't an evaluation of his soul, it's an evaluation of his work.
Today's invocation of racial and gender stereotypes is all about deniability, leaving just enough ambiguity to be able to argue that there's no racial animus present. The problem is that the message receivers are rarely as tactful as the transmitter, and so by the time they've begun repeating the message, it's been stripped down to its bare bones. In this case, it happened first in National Review, and the other night it manifested on David Letterman's show, where a federal judge with eighteen years on the bench was reduced to the caricature of a Latino Judge Judy, fit only for handling the disputes of boisterous, violent, fast talking Latinos:
Naturally, some people will argue that this is "just a joke". But the point is that the joke is premised on Rosen's original unfounded critique, which has now been reduced to it's bare essence: that Sotomayor is domineering, unintellectual, and most importantly, Hispanic. And you know how those people are. Letterman just showed you. Do you really want one of them on the Supreme Court?
Rosen admitted he hadn't done enough work to get "a fully balanced picture of her strengths." I'm pretty sure that at this point we'll never get a "balanced picture" of her.
-- A. Serwer