The dumbest Princeton honors student ever

Would conservative pundits question the academic achievements of Sonia Sotomayor if she wasn't a minority?

Published May 29, 2009 1:50PM (EDT)

Certainly no one expected that Sonia Sotomayor would be confirmed to the Supreme Court without some criticism from the right, not to mention some questions about her credentials. And considering the fact that she's up for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land, that's the way it should be. But the tenor of some of that criticism has strayed past the normal bounds, and become ludicrous, even offensive.

Take this exchange between Bill Bennett and Weekly Standard Executive Editor Fred Barnes on Bennett's radio show Thursday, spotted by Think Progress:

BARNES: I think you can make the case that she's one of those who has benefited from affirmative action over the years tremendously.

BENNETT: Yeah, well, maybe so. Did she get into Princeton on affirmative action, one wonders.

BARNES: One wonders.

BENNETT: Summa cum laude, I don't think you get on affirmative action. I don't know what her major was, but summa cum laude's a pretty big deal.

BARNES: I guess it is, but you know, there's some schools and maybe Princeton's not one of them, where if you don't get summa cum laude then or some kind of cum laude, you then, you're a D+ student.

Barnes' final comment there is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to begin. First, it's ridiculous to suggest that at any college that there's no middle ground between graduating with honors and a D+ average. Second, summa cum laude isn't just "some kind of cum laude." It's the highest kind of honor possible, one that typically goes only to those students in the top 10 percent of their graduating class, at most. And finally, she was at Princeton -- it's not exactly your local community college.

But forget all that. Really, the worst part of what Barnes said isn't the sheer absurdity -- it's the fact that if Sotomayor were a white man nominated by a Republican, he and Bennett would never have had that conversation. But because she's a minority -- and a minority nominated by a Democrat -- they can simply dismiss her having graduated from one of the top schools in the country with the highest honors it bestows and say she must have been a product of affirmative action.

For comparison purposes, by the way, it's worth remembering that Barnes is the author of "Rebel in Chief: Inside the bold and controversial presidency of George W. Bush," an unapologetic hagiography in which he terms President Bush a "visionary."

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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