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Robert J. Elisberg Headshot

The One Question Not Asked about Sonia Sotomayor

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I've officially retired from listening to the debate on Sonia Sotomayor. I have my limits. It's not that I can't take the lunacy. If this was merely lunacy, I'd be fine with it. But as a friend of mine described it, this is hysteria. This has reached the depth of soul crushing, saved only by the knowledge that Ms. Sotomayor will be confirmed for the Supreme Court, and easily.

The problem here is not substance, but that when you engage someone in a debate, it legitimizes that debate. Whatever this debate is, it is not legitimate. This debate on Sonia Sotomayor is to legitimacy what Pinky and the Brain are to the war on terrorism.

Problematic, too, is that for all the good-intentions of debate, one important question has yet to be asked. And so without it, the debate rages, hysterically.

Anyone trying to debate somebody about Sonia Sotomayor, however, is fighting a losing battle - because they believe it is a real debate, where the other side could be convinced by logic - or facts, or anything.

That's the flaw.

A few years ago, a friend was auditioning for a talk show on a local station. A mutual acquaintance thought he'd have some fun. He called up, got on the air with a fake voice and began arguing with every single point the host would make. Not just argue, but throw out fake statistics and imaginary research. The aspiring host would debate back, but it was hopeless - because everything was made up. There was literally no winning the debate. One of the two people wasn't actually debating, but merely being contradictory for the sake of being contradictory. Listening was halfway between hilarious and too painful. My friend hosting probably gained points with the station for going toe-to-toe so impressively. Ultimately, someone else got the job, but I learned a valuable lesson. You can't win a debate against someone who is not debating.

It is the same lesson today, and why I now turn off the call-in radio shows and the TV broadcasting having Sotomayor Debates. "Too painful" has won out, because these aren't call-in pranks. Amid all the attempt to debate in good faith, and all the questions being asked...the one question that should be asked isn't.

And still they debate on. Hopelessly - because of the two-word gambit. "Yes, but..."

We hear the Sotomayor Defense explain that other judges have said the exact same thing. "Yes, but..." is always the response.

We hear the the Sotomayor Defense explain her full, thoughtful quote that rarely gets heard. "Yes, but..." comes the answer.

We hear the the Sotomayor Defense explain what the specific topic of the conference was, that she was required to speak on. The same reply always follows. "Yes, but..."

Yes, but... Yes, but... Yes, but... Every time. Because it doesn't matter what reality is explained, the person arguing Doesn't Want to Hear It. Doesn't Care. If the topic at hand was "What is two plus two?", and Albert Einstein himself returned to earth and explained why the answer was "four," the reply would be - "Yes, but..."

The problem with this Far Right hysteria is not substance, but what it says about the Far Right - and about their corroding the American discourse out of emptiness and fear.

There are many reasons why those filling the national consciousness against Sonia Sotomayor are so ripped up inside. Some likely hate Barack Obama because he's not Republican. Some hate President Obama because he's black. Some hate Sonia Sotomayor because she's a woman. Some because she's a Latina. Some are well-meaning, but terrified of life today because George Bush and Dick Cheney made them terrified to try and win elections with enabling support of the GOP. None of them are acting because they actually want to hear what anyone else has to say.

To be clear, there are a small handful of people reasonably discussing Judge Sotomayor. I'm not referring to them above. Those above are flailing for a life preserver.

And that leads to the one question that has not been asked.

As I said, you can't debate those who aren't debating. All you can do is ask them questions, to get such people to explain themselves and ultimately reveal to others the depth of their hysteria.

And at the heart of that is the one question that hasn't been asked.

When I hear a discussion with someone ranting how Sonia Sotomayor said something which shows that she is a racist bigot of the prejudiced discriminatory Hispanic KKK...I want to hear them asked one question:

Can you give one example of any court opinion Judge Sonia Sotomayor has herself personally written, signed and delivered in her 17 years on the federal bench, among over 3,000 rulings, that is "racist"?

Show your work.

"Yes, but..." is not an answer. Just respond to that simple question.

And until you can answer that question, leave the table because life is much too important and you're taking up the seats of the adults.