The Current Crisis

Chucking Estrada

The insidiousness of Democratic-style identity politics.

By 2.19.03

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Washington -- The Administration's nomination to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia of Miguel Estrada is now paralyzed by the Senate Democrats' refusal to entertain a vote for him on the Senate floor and by the White House's insistence that the vote take place. The White House has 54 votes favoring Estrada. Were the vote to take place, the Senate could get on with other business. The White House, however, does not have the sixty votes necessary to bring Estrada's name to the floor. Hence the paralysis will continue.

Careful observers of the Washington scene speculate as to how the deadlock can be broken, but they have not come up with any ideas as to how the Bush Administration might get its floor vote on Estrada's historic nomination -- he is the first Hispanic ever nominated to this particular court. Some Democrats say they oppose Estrada because he has not been sufficiently talkative about his personal views and has not allowed them to review his memos from the days he served in the Clinton Administration's office of the Solicitor General, a review that every living Solicitor General, Democrat and Republican, opposes. Others, for instance, Senator Hillary Clinton, say this Harvard Law School graduate, upon whom the American Bar Association has conferred its highest rating, is not qualified -- but then Hillary says a lot of things that turn out to be untrue. Finally, other Democrats complain that Estrada is not a genuine representative of the Hispanic community.

In this age of identity politics Estrada's ethnic identity looms large in the debate, revealing the insidiousness of identity politics. At one point, the great champions of identity politics, the Democrats, will argue that Republican opposition to a nominee is based on prejudice against the nominee's ethnicity or race, as they did with the nomination of Ronnie White. At another point, the Democrats will argue that Republican support for an ethnic or racial nominee is based solely on the nominee's ethnicity or race, as they did in the case of Clarence Thomas. Either argument helps the Democrats hold onto their minority supporters while, alas, stirring up bigotries and ignoring the nominee's merits.

Today some Democrats such as the oleaginous Senator Clinton are performing the jujitsu maneuver on Estrada's nomination of claiming that he has only been nominated because of his Honduran birth and Republican politics. They claim he is but bait to lure Hispanics into the Republican Party. Well, there is a way to break the deadlock that now threatens to immobilize the Senate at an especially critical time. And it is suspicious that the Democrats who remonstrate so dramatically against "gridlock" now make such a monumental issue of this one judicial nomination.

Those who speculate on how the deadlock on Estrada might be broken ought to consider the possibility that he is in truth not Hispanic but Japanese. We know that there are numerous people of Japanese origin living in Latin America. A recent president of Peru was Japanese. Anyone who knows his haiku has come into contact with the word estrada. Take a look at the pictures of Estrada in the paper. He certainly looks Japanese to me. The Democrats balk that Estrada has not told them enough about himself. Can you imagine the look on Hillary's face if Estrada were to announce at a duly convened press conference, "Actually, I'm Japanese," and then pull out a set of chop sticks and invite all the Democrats to join him at one of Washington's stupendous sushi restaurants?

Ridiculous you say? Improbable, you say? Truth be known, this whole debate is ridiculous. Estrada has received the ABA's highest rating. He has served in the office of the Solicitor General and in one of Washington's finest law firms, always with distinction. Of course he leans toward the Republicans, just as most Clinton Administration nominees leaned toward the Democrats. That is the way the judicial nominating process always goes. Do the Democrats expect Republicans to nominate Democrats? And must the Democrats continue to make a judge's personal views about Democratic bugaboos a cause for rejection? Are their bugaboos so tenuously fixed in the polity that a Hispanic-American judge of Japanese heritage might overthrow their whole legal edifice? What the Democrats are telling us in the row over Estrada is that they will nix any judicial nominee whom they assess insufficiently Democratic. That is not a workable solution to the Estrada impasse.

The impasse is another example of liberals creating a problem and demanding a solution that is as bad as the original problem or worse. Years ago their judicial activism made the politics of judicial nominees very significant. Before that the only criteria for acceptance by the Senate were a nominee's demonstrated integrity and expertise with the law. Legislatures are to create the law. Judges are merely to see that cases conform to the law. Such Democratic concerns as abortion and school prayer are now established in the law. No judge can change the law. Abortion and school prayer are only going to be ended if legislatures rewrite the law or amend it. The Estrada deadlock is obviously about something other than his ability to change the law. It probably is about the Democrats' ability to hold on to the Hispanic vote. Yet if the Democrats continue to humiliate a Hispanic-American in front of the entire country, they can be sure that many proud and independent-minded Hispanics are going to drift toward the party that championed Miguel Estrada. In fact, many now are.

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About the Author
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. He is the author of The Death of Liberalism, published by Thomas Nelson Inc. His previous books include the New York Times bestseller Boy Clinton: the Political Biography; The Impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton; The Liberal Crack-Up; The Conservative Crack-Up; Public Nuisances; The Future that Doesn't Work: Social Democracy's Failure in Britain; Madame Hillary: The Dark Road to the White House; The Clinton Crack-Up; and After the Hangover: The Conservatives' Road to Recovery.