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What Nancy Drew Taught Sonia Sotomayor

6 years ago
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Well pass the Kleenex and take the vote. Does it matter that Obama's first Supreme Court pick, Sonia Sotomayor, was raised in a public housing project by a widow who worked six days a week to support a son who became a doctor and a daughter who's set to become the first Hispanic on the SCOTUS? Does it matter that she doesn't look like any of the justices who came before her? Does it matter that with her voice shaking and her heart all but exploding right in front of us, she showed truckloads of the empathy Obama had said he was looking for in a justice? Yes, yes, and oh, yes -- and not only if you are broke or brown-skinned or a little girl growing up in the South Bronx.

Obama's speech announcing his choice was Lee Greenwood-caliber red, white and blue; Sotomayor is not only a lifelong Yankees fan, but because she issued the 1995 injunction that ended an eight-month strike, the president noted winkingly, "Some say that Sonia Sotomayor saved baseball.'' His introduction (America, meet Judge Sonia) was as masterful a flourishing of honest-to-God patriotism as any Democrat has managed in my memory.

His choice was an exercise in affirmative action only in the sense that Sotomayor is someone whose whole family worked their backsides off to get where Ivy League legacies were born. She overcame not only poverty and prejudice but diabetes diagnosed at age 8, the year before her father died. And as a former assistant district attorney, it's not hard to believe her when she says, "I strive never to forget the real-world consequences of my actions.'' Completing the tableaux was Joey "Big Lug'' Biden, who hollered, "I told ya, piece o' cake!'' right into the mic as he hugged her after she spoke.

The president also threw out another bit of Americana this morning, perhaps in an effort to get women from every background to relate to his choice, much as Michelle Obama did during last year's presidential campaign when she talked about being a huge fan of the ultimate 70s white-bread -- hold the Miracle Whip – TV series, "The Brady Bunch.''

Yes, Sotomayor spoke movingly about her mother as her role model, but Obama said that as a kid, it was the fictional (titian-haired, roadster-driving) girl-sleuth Nancy Drew who'd gotten young Sonia interested in criminal justice, and in out-thinking the grown-ups and bad boys. When told that she'd never make a police detective because of her diabetes, she did what Nancy would do and kept right on marching.

In some ways, Nancy and Sonia wouldn't seem to have a lot in common; not only did the former have a lawyer for a daddy and the coolest car in town, but in my 1930 first-edition copy of The Hidden Staircase, (in which, at age 10, I scribbled not only my name but also my running commentary) the junior detective is not exactly a model of racial enlightenment: "How about the negress?'' Nancy asks at one point, referring to the villain's housekeeper.
"Apparently, the colored woman was satisfied that there was nothing wrong in the basement, for after peering in at the window, she moved away, muttering to herself. "I done reckons my old ears is playin' me false,'' she mumbled. "i hears noises dat sounds like dey was in de basement and dey was on in my haid.'' Nancy's not on the same page with her former fan on gun control, either: "Oh no, I've forgotten the revolver Dad gave me,'' she says after packing her bags for a week of sleuthing. "I think Dad was wise to suggest that I take his revolver,'' she tells herself later. "And I'll take plenty of ammunition, too! Enough to annihilate an army!''
When people get to know her, Sotomayor said today, "they will see that I'm an ordinary person who's been blessed with extraordinary opportunities and experiences'' -- and with a flawed but sturdy heroine from another time, who got by on brains and fortitude. She respected her elders, but depended on no one, not even her "becomingly plump'' BFF Bess. She only tolerated her dim beau Ned Nickerson, and only pretended to think her big-deal daddy was ever going to show up and help her crack a case.

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