Have you ever seen a middle-aged white guy try and do the Macarena ?
You know the type. A few too many pops at the country club bar, he grabs the hot young Latina waitress and yanks her onto the dance floor. Convinced he’s doing an American Idol-worthy Ricky Martin imitation, somewhere in his brain as he stumbles awkwardly over his white shoes he actually thinks he’s sending The Tolerance Signal. The “ain’t I the hip white guy” sign. The evening ends with a tip to the waitress assuring her how much he supports “you people” in their ongoing struggle for truth, justice and the American way. Oh, and by the way, he’s been to Taco Bell.
The image came to mind watching the behavior of South Carolina’s Republican Senator Lindsey Graham during the confirmation hearings of Judge Sonia Sotomayor. He will vote for her confirmation.
Fleeing from principle, Graham, whose campaign website says he “never abandons his independence or strays from the conservative reform agenda,” did both.
Condescending to Sotomayor about her “wise Latina” beliefs, he also ruminated that some of the speeches she has given are “pretty disturbing,” and they “blow me away.” He wondered aloud “who are we getting” in a Justice Sotomayor, something not unlike guzzling scotch and wondering if there is a connection to perpetual hangovers. When this is followed by praise that she is “bold” and “edgy” and that “elections matter” and the president deserves “deference” and that “I desire as a Senator to find a new way to start over and get back to a Senate that’s more rational in its approach when it comes to confirmation,” Graham appears to be leading the rest of us to a disturbing conclusion.
Senator Graham is no dummy. To proceed to vote to put someone on the Court who is so obviously devoted to principles he claims to oppose gives new meaning to terms such as cowardly, lily-livered, irresolute, chickenhearted or, in Spanish, no cojones.
Or does it?
The problem exhibited by Graham is in fact not what it seems. It’s worse.
“Elections matter,” he says — citing President Obama’s victory. The election that mattered in South Carolina was the one in which Lindsay Graham ran on a pledge never to stray from the conservative reform agenda — and then did so. “Deference” to presidents? President George W. Bush would have appreciated Graham’s deference when he nominated William “Jim” Haynes to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. Haynes, then the general counsel at the Pentagon, had been bold and edgy when it came to providing legal advice on the issue of detainees captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
But Haynes’s record is not the point here. As a senator Graham is perfectly within his rights to vote “no” on a judicial nominee for any reason. The sly hypocrisy comes from Graham’s insistence that he is voting for Sotomayor in part because of his “desire as a Senator to find a new way to start over and get back to a Senate that’s more rational in its approach when it comes to confirmation.”
The lack of a “rational ..approach” in the confirmation process has many fathers, Ted Kennedy holding pride of place. But Mr. Graham’s performance on the Haynes nomination is part and parcel of this irrationality. Unlike Sotomayor, who will get a vote in the Senate Judiciary Committee and a floor vote, Haynes’ 2003 nomination by Bush was, according to accounts at the time, held by Graham for four years. Realizing Graham would never allow him to receive a fair vote, Haynes withdrew in 2007.
As a majority-party Senator until 2007, Graham could have pushed for reform in the confirmation process, not least of all by his conduct with Haynes. He could have supported timelines for hearings, committee votes and floor votes, rules that would have applied to all judicial nominees of all presidents. He did not.
His performance on the Sotomayor nomination, aside from abandoning conservative principles to be seen as the tolerant hip guy who can dance the Macarena and eats at Taco Bell, is really something else.
A Senator operating from political weakness is offering to repair a judicial confirmation process he himself played a real role in damaging. By offering up his vote for the confirmation of a judge who has made it as plain as day she will practice identity politics from the bench.
Is Graham crackers? Unprincipled? Or just plain phony.