John, I think the reason Republicans are so focused on Sotomayor's speeches rather than her record is because they are trying to do precisely what Democrats did with John Roberts and Sam Alito—peer into an appellate court judge's heart to see what happens when he is unmoored from the constraints of a reviewing court. They think her speeches are a better reflection of that, even if, as she notes, they have not even looked at the bulk of her speeches but focused on one or two. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said this morning he can't "reconcile" the picture of Sotomayor's legal career with her speeches. The reason we are not talking about her 17-year legal career is, as you point out, it's remarkable for being unremarkable.
That leaves your great question of how much she's walked back what she said in her speeches. I believe we are seeing quite a different Sotomayor today than we saw yesterday. When Cornyn confronted her about the "wise Latina" remark, she didn't flee from it like she did yesterday. Instead, she said, My rhetorical flourishes can't be read literally. She did that thing where she apologized for the fact that it was misunderstood but not for having said it: "My message was different than I understand my words have been understood by some." Tangled syntax? Yes. But repentant? Not really. She wouldn't even retreat on her claim that "physiological differences" may affect judging. In fact, she pushed back at Cornyn, saying it's better to ask these sorts of hard questions. "Ignoring them isn't the answer."
The Sotomayor I have seen so far this morning is far more confident and less deferential than the automaton we met yesterday. Her message today is also clearer: I am human, my background makes a difference. I am not sorry for exploring whether and how it makes a difference, but when I apply the law to the facts—if you look at my record—the law always wins.