Thanks, Sandy Baby

Now She Tells Us

Sandra Day O'Connor rethinks Bush v. Gore, but that's no reason to rethink her.

Did you catch Sandra Day O'Connor's comments over the weekend? From the Chicago Tribune:

Looking back, O'Connor said, she isn't sure the high court should have taken the case.

"It took the case and decided it at a time when it was still a big election issue," O'Connor said during a talk Friday with the Tribune editorial board. "Maybe the court should have said, 'We're not going to take it, goodbye.'"

The case, she said, "stirred up the public" and "gave the court a less-than-perfect reputation."

"Obviously the court did reach a decision and thought it had to reach a decision," she said. "It turned out the election authorities in Florida hadn't done a real good job there and kind of messed it up. And probably the Supreme Court added to the problem at the end of the day."

Great. Thanks, Sandy Baby, as a shitfaced John Riggins once called her. I don't go in for this O'Connor revisionism, just because she's not as out there as some of her successors. She's pretty out there. And people forget: At the time, she was apparently very partisan and took a very partisan interest in the election. Why it was none other than Newsweek that reported at the time that on election night 2000, O'Connor was at a party and registered publicly her displeasure at the idea that Gore might win because, as her husband explained to the assembled, "they wanted to retire to Arizona and a Gore presidency meant they would have to wait four years because she did not want a Democrat to name her successor."

O'Connor's world view, at least as laid out in her memoir, is in fact kind of frightening. I still remember the brilliantly scabrous review in the very same Chicago Tribune to which she gave these fresh quotes (she must have forgotten about the review!) by Dan Baum. Yes, that Dan Baum, before he was famous for writing for The New Yorker and infamous for the clangourous manner in which he got fired from it. Baum's review was awesome:

This is a disgraceful book, both in what O'Connor has to say and how she has chosen to say it.

Writing with her brother, H. Alan Day (with thanks to their sister, Ann), O'Connor describes in a tone of spooky, cheerful neutrality a childhood saturated with brutality on an Arizona ranch "one-fifth the size of the state of Rhode Island" that her grandparents homesteaded in the late 1800s. Her father, Harry, nicknamed DA (pronounced dee-ay), taciturn to the point of petrification, ropes his tiny daughter and niece by their necks and yanks them out of a cow trough, where they have taken refuge on a 100-degree day, because they they don't obey quickly enough his command to get out. He is publicly, humiliatingly rude to his wife, Ada Mae. And when teenage Sandra's pickup blows a tire, making her late to deliver to the cowboys the lunch she has spent all morning cooking, he thanks her for the effort by saying she should have started earlier and refusing to eat the lunch.

What's so creepy about O'Connor's telling is her utter lack of commentary. She neither criticizes nor excuses him; she could be reporting on the weather. After visiting his newborn first child in the hospital, O'Connor's father writes to his wife, "Although I cannot say that I feel any great parental love for Sandra yet, I would like to see her and touch her again." That's an amazing thing for a man to write to his wife and a remarkable excerpt to include in a memoir if you want to draw attention to how cold-hearted or ambivalent your father was. But that isn't O'Connor's aim. She twice says how much like him she is. "It was no country for sissies," she writes, "then or now."...

...O'Connor's most breathtaking political audacity, though, comes early on, when she describes how her father would have lost the ranch during a 1934 drought had the government not agreed to buy his dying cattle. Yet just two paragraphs later, O'Connor reports without comment that her father and the other ranchers in the area "strongly opposed . . . an expanded role for the federal government. They believed in private initiative to solve all problems." Franklin Roosevelt takes his licks in several places, despite his programs that rescued, electrified and provided low-cost Civilian Conservation Corps labor to, the ranch. "All one needed was a herd of cattle and a few people to watch over them," O'Connor declares. "God and the free market would do the rest."

That's brilliant stuff. So please, let's not get squishy about Sandy Baby.