I want to pick up a thread in one of the posts below, in which a commenter noted that among many on the left, “Palin isn’t a serious candidate because many feel she’s intellectually challenged, but those same critics support a Supreme Court Nominee who had to read children’s books in college.”
The reference was to Sonia Sotomayor, the appeals court judge of Puerto Rican heritage nominated by President Obama to the Supreme Court. While at Princeton, she was apparently advised that her English-language skills were inadequate and that one way to improve those skills was to read books that she had missed being raised in a largely Spanish-speaking household.
Pat Buchanan and others on the right have used that to belittle Sotomayor, noting that “How do you graduate first in your class at Princeton if your summer reading consists of “Chicken Little” and “The Troll Under the Bridge”? As other commenters noted, that’s not exactly accurate. Sotomayor recalled in a 1996 speech that “I spent my summers at Princeton doing things most of my other classmates took for granted. I spent one summer vacation reading children’s classics that I had missed in my prior education — books like Alice in Wonderland, Huckleberry Finn, and Pride and Prejudice. My parents spoke Spanish, they didn’t know about these books.”
I think that tells us something important about Sotomayor, something that even the Pat Buchanan’s of the world should celebrate rather than condemn. She arrived at Princeton, recognized that her background had left a weakness in her preparation and in her ability to compete in the mainstream, and she resolutely set out to fix it.
If she were the Latina separatist that her opponents hope to paint her as, she would have rejected the classics as stories written by white people for white people. and she set out to fix it. She did the exact opposite. It is a classic example of the second-generation immigrant experience, striving to earn a place in mainstream America. (What may anger the Buchanans of the world is that she did not feel the need to reject her Puerto Rican upbringing in the process; she merely added the mainstream cultural experience to it.)
I think there’s a lesson there for Palin as well. Sotomayor recognized her shortcomings and worked hard to correct them. She had high goals and she knew she had better prepare herself to achieve them, and she was willing to pay the price.
That was not true of the Sarah Palin we saw in the 2008 presidential campaign. She is clearly an intelligent person, but she tried to hide her pitiful lack of preparation by charming, winking and wooing her way into national office. It didn’t work. A great backstory, an appealing image and values that resonate with a lot of the country are not sufficient credentials for the presidency.
If Palin is doing what Sotomayor did — if she has now recognized that her background as a small-town mayor and governor of an isolated state with fewer citizens than DeKalb County prepared her poorly for the major national and international issues of the day — she can be a real player. But if she doesn’t do the remedial work, if the Palin of 2012 isn’t notably more engaged and educated on the issues of the day than the Palin of 2008, she’ll fail miserably.
You see it all the time in sports — the player of immense natural talent who believes that talent alone will get them there. Life rarely works that way.