01/10/2006 08:10 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sam Alito, Culture Warrior

If you are of a certain age, you probably decode automatically. For those who don't, here's what Alito's opening statement meant. He said he was shaped by the contrast between the 'unpretentious" folk he grew up with in suburban New Jersey and "very smart and very privileged people behaving irresponsibly" on Ivy League campuses he later attended.

That means his heart still belongs to those who accepted without question what tradition and authority handed down--a racist Jim Crow society, a system of oppressive gender roles and rampant homophobia sustained by legal sanctions, and a war that cost millions of lives in service of a delusion (Communism was going to engulf South-East Asia if we didn't win in Vietnam. We didn't win. It didn't even come close to happening).

The key word is "unpretentious." The implication is that people who defied tradition and authority in the name of justice back in the 60s were "pretentious." Believe it or not that was the operative value judgment back then--as I have elsewhere shown in relation to Dubya's anti-intellectualism. That's why the lifestyle aspects of "behaving irresponsibly" are so important to people like Alito. Long hair and drugs defined as part of the same package as civil rights demonstrations made the whole package so much easier to reject.

Of course, now--now that the law of the land has recognized what the civil rights movement struggled to realize--now people like Alito and Bush routinely point with pride to this system of ours that made that progress possible.

But remember this always: they didn't lift a finger to help make it happen. That would have been pretentious.