Political Hay

Trumping the Race Card

Republicans content to let another opportunity slip by.

By 7.14.09

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If you're going to be smeared by the left and the media -- but I repeat myself -- as a racist and a bigot no matter what you say, you might as well make the most of it.

As another Supreme Court nomination battle got underway yesterday, it seems this commonsense axiom is largely lost on today's Grand Old Party. This is tragic.

Although in the years following the Civil War the party of Lincoln courageously fought to forever enshrine the rights of black freedmen, in recent decades Republicans have lost their zeal for doing the right thing when it comes to race-related issues. Democrats and liberal pressure groups have long known that the fastest way to get a Republican to fold is to call him or her a racist. It's an amazing kind of kryptonite that turns spines into jelly. This kind of dynamic has poisoned the political conversation in America for decades.

Unless Republicans have an ace up their sleeve to counter the Democratic demagoguery that reliably airs its ugly head whenever the political stakes are high, they will not only fail to prevent the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor, a tedious left-wing racial grievance monger, but they will fail to take advantage of a marvelous opportunity to put the unapologetic racism and racial paternalism of the modern left under a national spotlight.

With Day One of the Sotomayor hearings now complete, there is little reason to be optimistic.

In his opening statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Pat Leahy (D-Vermont) wasted no time smearing critics of Sotomayor. It was not as brazen as Ted Kennedy's "Robert Bork's America" speech, but it was just as calculated and dishonest.

Leahy clearly implied that mere criticism of Sotomayor's infamous statement that she would "hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life," was in itself racist.

Looking to past Supreme Court confirmation proceedings, he raised completely inappropriate examples of senators asking seemingly bigoted questions of nominees. Of course, no one has said Sotomayor isn't qualified because of her race and Democrats are the ones who keep saying again and again that her race is precisely what makes her such a superb nominee.

Leahy noted that Thurgood Marshall was asked, "Are you prejudiced against the white people of the South?" and that the first Jewish American nominated to the high court, Louis Brandeis, was asked strange questions about "the Jewish mind" and how "its operations are complicated by altruism."

"I trust that all members of this committee here today will reject the efforts of partisans and outside pressure groups that have sought to create a caricature of Judge Sotomayor while belittling her record, her achievements and her intelligence," Leahy said sternly.

"Unfortunately, some have sought to twist her words and her record and to engage in partisan political attacks," Leahy complained. "That's not the American way. That's not the Senate way." From years of watching Leahy in action, it's clear that it's his way.

Republican members weren't exactly cowed into submission, but they also didn't tackle Sotomayor's comments aggressively.

In their long-winded opening statements, the Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the most part perfunctorily stated their objections to President Obama's manifestly unqualified candidate for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land.

Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Tom Coburn (R-Oklahoma) who both discussed Sotomayor's postmodernist approach to judicial construction seem to be notable exceptions.

Cornyn referenced a speech Sotomayor made in which she said judges are obligated to force "'radical change' to meet the needs of an 'evolving society.'"

Coburn brought up Sotomayor's judicial anti-philosophy, quoting her deeply troubling assertion that "There is no objective stance, but only a series [of] perspectives, no neutrality, no escape from choice in judging."

One half-expects Sotomayor to proclaim that art is dead, but I digress.

The perpetually gutless Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) did not disappoint. In his opening statement he was already waving the white flag. "Unless you have a complete meltdown, you're going to get confirmed," he told the nominee. "And I don't think you will" have a meltdown, he said.

And then there were all the Democrats like Dianne Feinstein (D-California) drooling over the supposedly horrific privations and trauma that Sotomayor suffered growing up.

As part of his inaugural standup routine on the committee, newly installed Sen. Al Franken (D-Minnesota), delivered a knee-slapper, calling Sotomayor "the most experienced Supreme Court nominee in 100 years." The man who owes his political career to ACORN said her story was inspirational and one "all Americans should take great pride in."

Not really, Al.

Although she had to surmount numerous obstacles early in life, her personal story isn't especially compelling. Clarence Thomas and many other jurists throughout history have had far more difficult childhoods. Thomas lived at one time in a shack with no running water while Sotomayor lived in public housing.

The unpalatable truth that many Republicans are too afraid to say in public is that Sotomayor's main qualifications for service on the Supreme Court are that she is a Latina and a woman. She is a mediocrity; neither a brilliant nor an original legal thinker. Her philosophy is the same warmed over politically correct pabulum that liberal professors in universities and law schools routinely force down the throats of their students.

She has, to boot, also been active in the left-of-center racial grievance groups National Council of La Raza and LatinoJustice PRLDEF (which until fairly recently had been called the Puerto Rican Legal Education and Defense Fund). "La Raza," remember, is Spanish for "The Race." 

LatinoJustice apparently used funds from George Soros's Open Society Institute to fight a war of attrition against President George W. Bush's 2001 nomination of conservative Miguel Estrada, a Honduran-born immigrant, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Democrats in the Senate filibustered the nomination and eventually a shell-shocked Estrada withdrew from consideration in 2003.

It ought to be beyond dispute that Sotomayor's "wise Latina" comment is a bigoted comment but in America today it's not.

After all, there is no room for misinterpretation. It is a racist statement and not a particularly wise one. Sotomayor is arguing that her race gives her unique insights and makes her a better judge. Period. Imagine if the president had selected a white man who wrote that it was his "hope that a wise man of Anglo-Saxon descent with the richness of his experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a Puerto Rican female who hasn't lived that life." The racial grievance industry would howl.

That said, the unfortunate reality is that many Americans are unconvinced that her comments constitute racism because over decades they have been conditioned to believe that a member of a minority group (or groups in this case) cannot be a racist.

Republicans, and even some conservative activists, share some of the blame for this. By not challenging the left's relentless race-based demonization of Republicans in an increasingly racially diverse country, the GOP has signed its own death warrant.

But a pardon is not out of reach. The only way to unload the "racist" tag is to challenge it. By not challenging the smear, by not countering the American left's sick obsession with race, reticent Republicans allow the smear to be perpetuated.

So far there doesn't seem to be much evidence that Republican senators are going to do much of anything beyond pro forma protest. Activists such as former Indiana Rep. David McIntosh have told Republican senators, "Don't throw away yet another conservative agenda item when it's a successful one for you. Your base cares about this and you should too."

It is far from clear that Republicans will poke and prod the Bronx-born Sotomayor, who apparently considers herself to be Puerto Rican first and American second. And it seems unlikely that Republicans are prepared to give her nomination the Bronx cheer it so richly deserves.

Before the hearings even began, some Republicans seemed resigned to defeat. Sen. John Thune (R-South Dakota) said that fighting the nomination of Sotomayor has been an uphill battle so far. "I think part of it is the Democrats are benefiting right now from the deluge of issues. They've got so many irons in the fire, it's hard for anything to come through," Thune said. This trickle of excuses may turn into a mighty raging river in coming days if Republicans stick to their old playbook, which calls for retreat and defeat whenever the race card is played.

That Republicans have been stuck with the "racist" tag is one of the great ironies of American history.

The party of Lincoln freed the slaves and powerful factions within the Democratic Party fought to keep black Americans in metaphorical chains for a hundred years after the Civil War. It is unclear why Republicans have allowed Democrats, the architects of Jim Crow and whose members such as Bull Connor fought tooth-and-nail to preserve a peculiarly American apartheid, to define them on the issue of race and to viciously smear them for so long with the single most malevolent libel in American politics.

Although racism is embedded in the very DNA of the Democratic Party, you'd hardly realize it if you relied on history textbooks and the mass media.

Historian Michael Zak argues that Americans, including Republicans, have been brainwashed by decades of Democratic propaganda. "As you know, Democrats control most of the media, but they also write most of the history books, thereby controlling what even Republican activists think they know about our party's glorious heritage," he writes.

It is impossible to calculate how much the left's frequent recourse to its favorite smear has cost America in lost funds and lost freedoms. Some of the consequences are affirmative action -- which Democrats now passionately embrace long after the GOP began distancing itself from the Nixonian monstrosity -- and race-based set asides in hiring. Others include the financial affirmative action of the Community Reinvestment Act and government grants that come with race-based policy strings attached. And who knows how much money progressive poverty pimps like Jesse Jackson, National Council of La Raza, and the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) have extracted from corporate America and all levels of government over the years.

 But one thing is certain: viewing Americans through the prism of race is profoundly un-American.

Only when Republicans show courage and jettison their squeamishness on race-related issues will they able to truly compete in the war of ideas.

Trying to dislodge an entrenched idea can be a scary, daunting task, but until Republicans begin challenging the Democrats' race hustlers, they are going to lose again and again and again.

Taking on Sonia Sotomayor is an excellent place for the Republican Party to begin reclaiming the high ground on matters of race. 

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About the Author

Matthew Vadum is an award-winning investigative journalist at a conservative watchdog group in Washington, D.C. Vadum is also author of Subversion Inc: How Obama's ACORN Red Shirts are Still Terrorizing and Ripping Off American Taxpayers.