Richard Cohen, liberal columnist for the Washington Post, has struggled with some very basic logical notions. Today is no exception. Today again he puts on his contrarian hat and accuses a lot of unnamed people–admirers of Sonia Sotomayor (Obama's nominee for the Supreme Court) of elitism and racism. He writes:
With the nose of a trained columnist, I detect the whiff of elitism-cum-racism emanating from the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court. The whiff does not come — Rush Limbaugh and Newt Gingrich notwithstanding — from Sotomayor's own statements; nor does it come from her controversial decision upholding race-based affirmative action. It comes, instead, from the general expression of wow about her background. Imagine, someone from the projects is a success!
"Nobody expects you to be chosen someday for the Supreme Court when your father was a welder with a third-grade education," wrote Richard Lacayo in Time magazine. He is right — the expectations are all otherwise. You can see them on display in many of the reports about Sotomayor's background. She was raised in public housing projects. She grew up in the Bronx, which the average person must think of as a particularly nasty part of Mumbai, and she is, finally and incriminatingly, Puerto Rican. This is all, apparently, very hard to imagine.
With the nose of a trained nonsequitarian, I detect a whiff of it-does-not-follow here. Cohen's only evidence of a "general expression of wow" is some guy writing in Time and his own "the average person must think." He then goes on to debunk this not-established-to-exist general expression by running through a list of unnusually successful (and therefore completely unrepresentative) people (for any background) who come from public housing projects (Mike Tyson, Jay-Z, Ken Auletta, etc.). No one can plausibly deny the empirical possibility of being a success in any endeavor despite having been born in the projects. But what wows people are the probabilities. As Cohen ought to know, the expectations for people in the projects are indeed very different, not out of racisim, but out of a realistic sense of how one is successful in America. I doubt it is really elitism to think that.