In explaining why confirmation battles have lost their drama, more significant than this self-policing is the fact that this sort of inside-baseball analysis is now commonplace in everyday life, in and out of politics: We watch Hardball not for the substance of people's arguments, but for how they're posturing around the day's issues; we game out American Idol more or less the same way. There's no shortage of opportunity to watch groups of variously informed experts sit in judgment of ambitious nobodies grasping for their dreams. And as TV gives way to other media, those variously informed experts include ourselves: In the heyday of the television era, ordinary citizens had to rely on others--say, hearing-room antagonists like Thomas and Hill--to act out a divided society's symbolically charged confrontations. In the vast interactive universe of the internet, we do it ourselves, all day long. American discourse, in the end, has become one big, permanent, unruly confirmation hearing.
So even with an unexpected culture-war flare-up, don't expect much excitement about the hearings that started this week. If Ricci and his supporters want to transfix a new generation of hearing obsessives, they will have to not simply outshout Sotomayor's squad, but make themselves heard above the din of our Confirmation Nation. Maybe he can sing like Susan Boyle.
I actually don't expect much from Ricci. I just don't think there's much of an argument to stick on Sotomayor. She really is the perfect Obama pick--the sort of justice that forces rabid right-wingers into overplaying their hand.