I make a point of never listening to anything Senator Marsha Blackburn says. It galls me that she represents Tennessee. Let’s be clear here, she doesn’t represent the Tennessee of Dolly Parton. Blackburn is actually from Mississippi, who was elected to her seat primarily as a result of redistricting (read gerrymandering).
Every now and then my kin in Tennessee will comment on one more outrageous thing Blackburn says. There’s a lot of material to draw from. But on Wednesday as I was in the jeep running errands, I flipped on the radio, which was tuned to NPR, when I heard these remarks from Senator Blackburn:
“Some of my colleagues on the left seem to be quite quite amazed that you could balance career and family. I would think they would praise you for finding a way to do the work you are called to do and balancing it all. Maybe they should be curious about how you balance it all, meeting the demands of family, and work, and friends and church. They have this tone of condescension that there would be a woman from the political right who would try to have it all.”
If anyone has a tone of condescension in these hearings it’s Marsha Blackburn. In fact, almost any time I’ve heard her speak, Blackburn reminds me of Dana Carvey as the Church Lady.
Over the course of running my errands, I heard Senator Kennedy conclude his questioning of Amy Coney Barrett by asking her: “Who does the laundry around your house?”
And I heard soon to be fired Senator from South Carolina Lindsey Graham declare Amy Coney Barrett “one of the most amazing individuals” he’s ever met. He’s known her what? Like 3 days?
By the time Blackburn made her statement, I was spitting nails. I called my very pregnant daughter, cussed for 5 minutes, and then went back to driving with the radio flipped off.
I have been reticent to criticize Amy Coney Barrett because I do think that both parties can use a rhetoric steeped in fearmongering and I don’t like it. Additionally, I am loathe to criticize women period. Most women I know, left and right, are trying their level best to do good in the world. There are plenty of exceptions on both sides of women who are gallingly selfish and exploitative. Ivanka and Melania come to mind, as does Stormy Daniels and Ghislaine Maxwell.
But I found the comments of Blackburn, Kennedy and Graham to be appallingly patronizing to a woman of immense privilege. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone of these people praising Rep. Ilhan Omar for her remarkable life, even though she has overcome far more in her 38 years than Barrett has in her 48 years. The Somalian refugee is a woman of deep faith, like Amy Coney Barrett. Omar just happens to be Muslim instead of Catholic. Y’all be sure and ring me when you hear any Republican decry religious persecution on behalf of a Muslim, okay?
Unlike Amy Coney Barrett, whose lawyer father worked for Shell Oil Company, Omar’s father held jobs as a taxi cab driver and a postal worker. Omar went to a public high school. Barrett went to a private Catholic high school in Louisiana where tuition is $10,000. Upon graduation, Barrett attended a private liberal arts college whose tuition is $50,000 year. After earning her degree, she attended law school at Notre Dame, reportedly on tuition scholarship. Law school at Notre Dame will set a person back $50,000 plus a year.
According to the financial disclosures Barrett filed as part of her #SCOTUS nomination, Barrett has pages and pages of money in stocks, Investments and Trusts – 84 of them in total, if she did indeed list them all. (See Jared Kushner). Her IRA alone is valued at between $1-5 million. She has over $400,000 in real estate. She earned over $200,000 yearly as a professor at Notre Dame. (This will shock most professors and adjuncts I know). And her salary on the 7th Court of Appeals was over $200,000. Her salary on the Supreme Court will be about $260,000.
Her children, Emma (19), Vivian (16), Tess (16), John Peter (13), Liam (11), Juliet (9), and Benjamin (8), attend Trinity School in Greenlawn, Indiana. A small Catholic school that was founded by the People of Praise group. Although, the Barrett’s have adopted black children, the school is 81 percent white and only 5 percent black. Tuition at the school runs about $10,000, although most private schools give some break if you send more than one child to their school. Trinity serves as a feeder school to Notre Dame and Purdue.
I did not find any disclosure on how much money Jesse Barrett makes as a lawyer but rest assured it’s more than your local postmistress or cab driver.
How amazing is it then that a white woman born into wealth and privilege goes on to live a life of more wealth and privilege? Sure being brilliant helps. I dare say Amy Coney Barrett’s child with Down Syndrome will be unable to achieve the earning potentials of either his mother or his father. That’s not a commentary on their son. That’s a commentary on what it means to be American and disadvantaged, whether that’s due to physical limitations or financial limitations. And often those two go hand in hand in a society that refuses, absolutely refuses, to see the need for Universal healthcare.
I am sure that Amy Coney Barrett is a decent human being who loves her family, her friends, like most of us. I hope her circle of friends includes people from the LGBTQ community. I hope she has friends who are Muslim. I hope she has suffered setbacks in her life. I hope she knows what it means to grieve. I hope her faith in God compels her to regard others with dignity, the way Jimmy Carter’s faith does him.
I have no doubt that she will be the most conservative vote on the court. She will rule against the ACA and Roe v Wade and likely LGBTQ rights. But let’s be honest, so many states have chipped away at Roe v Wade, it’s almost impossible to get abortions in many of the Red States anyway. Will we be a country that becomes so partisan that we literally segregate to the states that honor LGBTQ rights and reproductive rights and provide universal healthcare vs states that deny all of that? It seems quite possible. Lucky for me, I won’t have to move.
But let’s not hold Amy Coney Barrett up to young girls as someone to emulate because what we are saying is “If you happen to be born a smart white girl into a financially secure family, a family who can afford private school tuition and elite private colleges, if you work hard (and you better) you, too, can have a seat on the Supreme Court one day.”
Call me a contrarian but I find Rep. Ilhan Omar to be far more reflective of the American story and a far better role model for young women everywhere. The youngest of seven children, Omar was born in Somalia, during a time of great civil unrest. When she was 9 years old, her family became refugees. Omar lived the next couple of years in a Kenyan refugee camp. Do you know anyone who lived in a refugee camp? I do. I’ve heard their stories. It’s not exactly like vacationing in Seaside, Florida.
When she was 12, the family immigrated to the United States. As a teenager, Omar served as an interpreter for her grandfather at Democratic caucuses. That is when she began to see the connection between local politics and national policy. At age 17, Omar pledged an oath to the United States and became a US citizen. At age 21, she graduated from a state college with a degree in political science. Four years later, she was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives. Two years later she was elected to the U.S. Congress.
All as a person of color, an immigrant, and a Muslim. And all while suffering repeated bigoted attacks from people like Senators Graham, Kennedy and Blackburn.
I suspect even Amy Coney Barrett’s black daughter, Vivian, would regard Rep. Ilhan Omar as more of a role model for girls of every creed and color than her own adoptive mom.
Karen Spears Zacharias is a journalist and author of Christian Bend: A novel (Mercer University Press).