The news cameras cut away from the Senate hearings on Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor for just a few minutes, but it was enough time for history to be made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue as well. There, President Obama announced his nomination of another woman from an underrepresented minority who, like Sotomayor, understands grand public policy as an intellectual and as one who has lived it through personal experience.
No one should expect Regina Benjamin, the African American physician and 2008 winner of a MacArthur "genius" grant nominated for surgeon general, to go through a grilling before the Senate. Benjamin has been considered an angel-like figure -- a strong-minded, plain-spoken angel-like figure -- who at times sacrificed her own financial well-being to care for some of the poorest working Americans. The family doctor from a shrimping town in Louisiana rebuilt her clinic after it was felled by hurricanes and fire and helped others across the country bring similar clinics to rural areas. She has been a leader in both the Alabama and national medical associations, but she's also a doctor who drove long distances when sick patients could not get to her and who understands the ravages of smoking, poor diet and other unhealthy behaviors in the most intimate way, having lost members of her immediate family to easily preventable diseases.