This is something Mr Buchanan said about Sonia Sotomayor recently.
"Well I, again in that Saturday piece, she went to Princeton. She graduated first in her class it said. But she herself said she read, basically classic children’s books to read and learn the language and she read basic English grammars and she got help from tutors. I think that, I mean if you’re, frankly if you’re in college and you’re working on Pinocchio or on the troll under the bridge, I don’t think that’s college work."
Mr Buchanan was sneering at something he read in the New York Times.
"Judge Sotomayor is not known to have identified herself as a beneficiary of affirmative action, but she has described her academic struggles as a new student at Princeton from a Roman Catholic school in the Bronx — one of about 20 Hispanics on a campus with more than 2,000 students.
"She spent summers reading children’s classics she had missed in a Spanish-speaking home and 're-teaching' herself to write 'proper English' by reading elementary grammar books. Only with the outside help of a professor who served as her mentor did she catch up academically, ultimately graduating at the top of her class."
I wish the New York Times reporter had written down the titles of some of those books. When Sonia Sotomayor was in college, a required reading list of children's classics would have included, among many others, Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green Gables, The Secret Garden, and Treasure Island.
These are children's books only because they are the first grown-up books many children get to know and love. Children can read and understand them but they are not childish books, even the ones with talking animals.
Maybe especially not the ones with talking animals.
Many adults enjoy these books. Many more would benefit from reading them.
Mr Buchanan, for instance.
He needs to improve his reading skills. The article does not say Sonia Sotomayor read those books, whatever books they were, for college. It says she read them in order to improve her ability to do her work at college.
Ok, boys and girls, we all know Mr Buchanan is a hateful bigot, not to mention a double-talking hypocrite and a liar.
Nothing he says means anything other than "I loathe and despise people who aren't like me for not being like me."
If a Republican President had nominated the son of Hispanic immigrants to the Supreme Court and it came out that that nominee had spent his summers in college reading children's classics in order to improve his English, Mr Buchanan would have praised the man for his hard work and self-discipline and it still would have meant "I loathe and despise people who aren't like me."
In praising that man he'd have found a way to insult all other Hispanics.
He doesn't think Sonia Sotomayor is funny and dumb because she read children's books when she was in college. He thinks she is funny and dumb because she is Hispanic and female and to him that makes anything she does funny and dumb.
Then, as Miss Potter said of Mr Tod , nobody could call Mr Buchanan "nice."
But I think Miss Potter described Mr Buchanan when she described Tommy Brock.
"Tommy Brock," Miss Potter wrote, "was a short bristly fat waddling person with a grin; he grinned all over his face. He ate wasp nests and frogs and worms; and he waddled about by moonlight, digging things up."
Miss Potter knew how to turn a phrase.
Mr Graham Greene thought Miss Potter was one of the finest prose writers in the English language.
And with that thought, we can kick Mr Buchanan out the door to go snarling and worrying with Mr Tod and Tommy Brock and get to the point.
Sonia Sotomayor did a very wise thing when she decided to read those children's classics.
All those books are beautifully written. If you wanted to learn how the English language looks and sounds at its best, you couldn't do much better than to go to the likes of Mark Twain, Kenneth Grahame, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Beatrix Potter for your lessons.
Let me back up a bit.
The New York Times doesn't actually tell us why Sonia Sotomayor read those children classics. It only tells us that she missed reading them when she was growing up. The implication is that she read them for the same reason she read the elementary grammar books and sought help from a tutor.
The implication is there because the thoughts are associated in a sentence and in a paragraph. But if the writer had wanted to say that she'd read those books for the same reason and wanted to be precise about saying it, he would have written, "To 're-teach' herself how to write 'proper English,' she spent summers reading children’s classics she had missed in a Spanish-speaking home and reading elementary grammar books."
It's easier for modifiers to reach forwards than backwards. This is how the language works and it works this way because this is how people use it to work.
When they are thinking about it and being careful.
Children learn how the language works by hearing it at work when they are too young to read to themselves and then by seeing at work after they've learned how to read.
Those children's classics are some of our first and best examples of the English language at work.
And that work is more than a matter of rules of grammar and usage.
From well-written stories---and notice I didn't say prettily written---we learn our language's structures and its sounds, and the way words sound, alone and together, is part of their meaning.
No writers of prose are as sensitive to the way words sound as the writers of children's books.
If you wanted to help someone who did not speak or read English well improve her skills, you could hand her a copy of Strunk and White.
Or you could read to her from a children's classic and let her hear that it sounds better to describe an animal as being a bear of very little brain than to just call him a dumb bear and it's more fun to say too.
Anyway, he's not a dumb bear. He's a silly ol' bear.
And I don't have to tell you what bear I'm talking about, do I?
Which brings me to another reason Sonia Sotomayor was wise to read those children's classics.
Mr Buchanan made the argument for her himself with his confidence that his audience would know what he was sneering at when he sneered at Pinocchio and the troll under the bridge.
A language isn't an assemblage of words. It's a collection of shared references.
You can't speak English well unless you know what troll and what bridge and what happened to him.
We spend a lifetime gathering and storing up these references, and the ones we gather first and the ones we treasure most so that they stay with us longest and the ones that have the most currency are the ones we learned from the first stories we were told as children.
If you are missing those references from your personal storehouse, you are missing a large part of the language.
You might as well not know how to conjugate verbs.
And, yes, I'm suggesting that a great many Americans who grew up speaking what they thought of as English as their native tongue don't know how to read and write it because they are missing those references.
They could all benefit from Sonia Sotomayor's example.
Let me tell you, I truly believe I have.
I spent the better part of the 1990s re-reading children's classics.
I had an audience of two small boys, of course. But I was part of my audience too. And I heard some wonderful sounds I hadn't heard in a long, long time.
At any rate, to speak English you need to know what someone who has gone through an emotional upheaval is referring to when they say, "I feel like I've gone through the looking glass."
You need to know why someone anticipating winning an argument might confide out of the corner of her mouth, "Please don't throw me in that briar patch" and sound as if she wants to be thrown into that briar patch.
You need to why a friend is shouting at Mr Buchanan on the television, "I can see your nose growing, Pat!"
And maybe you don't need to, but it's fun, to look at Mr Buchanan on the television grinning all over his face and think, "Tommy Brock."
Your turn: What are some children's books you'd recommend to someone trying to learn to read and write English? What books did you love when love when you were a kid? Which ones have you re-read as an adult and loved all over again? If you can quote a passage, that would be great.