An Unwise Boast
Barack Obama has effectively used his life experiences to enhance the credibility of his words, to persuade his listeners that his policies are rooted in his convictions. In his Cairo speech, he persuaded his Muslim audience that he could relate to their world without prejudice by describing his experiences as a child in Jakarta with tolerant Muslims. When he described his passion to provide health care for all Americans, he referred to experiencing his mother's struggle with the health care system as she suffered from cancer.
There is a whole media industry that makes sure the public knows the biographies of its leaders. But using bits of one's history to move audiences is an art. Done well, it increases trust that the leader has a philosophy people can trust. Sonia Sotomayor used her history less well in her statement that her experiences as a Latina made her wiser than a white male judge.
This was a boast to an audience that shared her Latina identity, not an explanation of her convictions. In fact, her actual record as a judge appears to be based on a disciplined approach to interpreting the law, not on her personal experiences. She appears to have been playing to a particular audience at the expense of her credibility with the larger public she needs to convince of her impartiality and wisdom.
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