Apparently Samuel Alito and the White House have hit upon a new strategy to make Alito not look like a total racist, sexist jerk. Similar to Bush's fondness for photo ops with troops and heroes in hopes of some kind of heroism-by-association, Alito is now invoking his dear departed father, who was conservative but (supposedly) egalitarian and non-partisan in carrying out his job responsibilities.
When a Democratic senator asked the Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr. why he might empathize with the plight of minorities or the poor, he had his answer ready: the example of his late father, an Italian immigrant who in college once defended a black basketball player from discrimination on the team.
When other Democrats pressed Judge Alito about why he had once disagreed with the Warren Court decision that established the "one person, one vote" standard for state districts, he again recalled the legacy of his father, Samuel A. Alito, who worked for three decades as the director of research for the New Jersey Legislature.
In his bedroom at night as a boy, Judge Alito told senators, he could hear his father clicking away at a manual calculator as he struggled to redraw the state's legislative districts with equal populations, people present for the conversations said.
To some senators, Judge Alito has said his father taught him to "revere" the legislative process. He has pointed to his father as a model of bipartisanship.
There is some counterpoint to this rosy portrait:
The elder Mr. Alito did not want to be called "Italian-American," said Arthur Applebaum, his longtime deputy in the legislative research service. "He just didn't care for hyphenated groups," Mr. Applebaum said, suggesting that Mr. Alito may have seen special consideration for certain ethnic groups as a sort of "reverse discrimination."
Colleagues of Judge Alito said he might have inherited the conservative sensibility his father displayed in private, including an instinctive cautiousness and a traditionalist approach to family life and social matters. Until the 1980's, for example, the elder Mr. Alito forbade women who worked for him to wear pants to the statehouse, long after other offices had accepted it.
In any case, this is all beside the point. It really doesn't matter what kind of person Papalito was - he's not the one nominated to the Supreme Court, and there is simply no reason to ascribe the father's virtue to the son.
Let's hope this strategy doesn't work - it sounds like the story about Papalito putting his college career on the line to protest a black player's benching against a segregated opponent had an effect on Dick Durbin, who said, "I thought it was a very moving insight about a life lesson learned from his father about the issue of race."
It may have been a very valuable life lesson, but there is simply no evidence that Alito actually learned it. I would like to see some of the Democratic Senators ask Alito what his beloved father thought about his membership in Concerned Alumni for Princeton, which advocated against admitting women and minorities to Princeton's hallowed halls. Or about what he would have thought about Alito's dissent wherein he argued that a search warrant extended to strip-searching 10-year-old girls.
The best tribute the Senate could pay to Alito's idealized father would be to reject any nominee who does not share his presumed commitment to equality, duty and country over party.