Wednesday, June 10, 2009
As promised, some thoughts about the recent presidential nominations. A number of emergencies (more or less important, but all urgent) kept me from posting on them when the rest of the blogosphere was talking about them.
Although the chatter in the blogosphere has slowed, the implications of the Diaz appointment are enduring and therefore worthy of consideration; Judge Sotomayor's confirmation hearings have not begun yet.
Much commentary about Diaz has focused on his orthodoxy. This is a mistake. The important thing to note is that he is not so much as a footnote to the Who's Who of Democratic movers and shakers. He is a virtually unheard-of university professor with little distinction within academia and no political experience. I hope it is very clear that, in noting Prof. Diaz's lack of distinction, I do not mean to cast aspersions on the quality of his theological work. While I confess to little interest in his area of theological endeavor, I also know how many professional thinkers in academia work throughout their careers quietly producing work of good quality - fewer of them "make it" per capita than do actors. The point is, quite simply, that Prof. Diaz has neither the President's ear, nor the people's recognition.
Those in the Latino community who are susceptible to the blandishments of identity politics might appreciate the appointment, though even as a move calculated to improve the President's polling numbers with Latino voters, the choice of Diaz for Ambassador the the Holy See is on its own unlikely to result in a great and lasting bond of affection between Latino voters and the President.
Even if it were, the real significance of the appointment remains geopolitical, rather than domestic.
Ambassador Diaz will doubtless be an intellectual presence on the diplomatic cocktail circuit in Rome; he may become a favored companion at the boards of cardinals and archbishops in the Curia. Even so, he will not be able to raise the President at a moment's notice - again, he will not have the President's ear.
If we are to understand anything at all in light of the Diaz appointment, it is that the President does not consider US relations with the Holy See to be a high priority.
Much has been made of Sotomayor's apparent embrace of something very like the politics of presence, as Prof. Anne Phillips has dubbed it. This is not so interesting to me as are the 6 in every 10 of her decisions that have been overturned by the Supreme court.
This high reversal rate tells me that the nominee is not possessed with great legal intelligence.
This, in its turn, suggests that she might be easily swayed by the opinions of her brethren on the Court.
Not to put too fine a point on it, unintelligent people are often swayed by the opinions they have heard most recently; it were not beyond the scope of this author's notoriously Lazy powers of fantasy to envision Justices Scalia and Ginsburg (for whose swift and full recovery from Pancreatic cancer we ought all to pray) jockeying for the tail position outside her door. "After you, Mm. Justice Ginsburg..." "No, after you, Nino..." "but really, Ruth, I do insist..." etc., etc., etc.
Pro-lifers are rightly concerned to know her position on abortion, though absent "smoking gun" evidence or unusual candor on the part of the nominee during the hearings, we are unlikely to get an unambiguous picture of her views of the subject.
Frankly, this does not overly concern me, any more than do the early descriptions of her as "[A] reliably liberal vote." Such estimations are themselves notoriously unreliable.
Finally, she is Catholic, and Catholics sometimes return to the rigorous practice of their faith, to true discipleship, i.e. to thinking with the Church. If Justice Sotomayor is not unacceptable on other grounds, we may allow ourselves not to be dismayed by her eventual appointment, and must remind ourseves to pray for her and all the Court, as we ought for the President, our Senators and Representatives.