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"Unless you have a complete meltdown, you are going to get confirmed. And I do not think you will."
That was Sen. Lindsey Graham this past Monday, addressing soon-to-be Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
It was a rare burst of realism for a GOP senator. After all, the Democratic-controlled Senate has the votes to easily confirm the Appeals Court judge from Brooklyn, even without the expected Republican defections.
As of this writing, Judge Sotomayor hasn't melted down. Some of her opponents, however, are coming pretty close.
It began the day Sotomayor was nominated, when former GOP presidential candidate Mike Huckabee fired off an immediate press release: "The appointment of Maria Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is the clearest indication yet that President Obama's campaign promises to be a centrist and think in a bipartisan way were mere rhetoric. Sotomayor comes from the far left."
Huckabee's criticism might have been taken a little more seriously if the nominee's first name was actually Maria.
The circus continued during the first day of the hearings, when the only thing anyone was hearing was the sound of the senators' own voices and their endless "opening statements." Not a single question was asked of Judge Sotomayor. This didn't stop Glenn Beck, Fox News' most out-of-control hysteric, from raging about how easy the questioning was "as our country burns to the ground." At least he didn't start crying again.
Then Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, the point man for the attacks on Sotomayor, stepped on a banana peel when he actually got around to asking a question.
Why, he asked, can't Judge Sotomayor be more like another female judge, that nice Judge Cederbaum, who, according to Sessions, "believes that judges must transcend their personal sympathies and prejudices"? Apparently, Sessions didn't realize, until Judge Sotomayor pointed it out, that Judge Cederbaum was actually in the hearing room at the time in support of Sotomayor.
"We are good friends," Sotomayor replied calmly, "and I believe that we both approach judging in the same way." In a later interview, Cederbaum confirmed that she didn't "believe for a minute that there are any differences in our approach to judging, and [Judge Sotomayor's] personal predilections have no effect on her approach to judging."
Note to Sen. Sessions: When you plan to use Person B to slam Person A, make sure Person B isn't in the room to cut the legs out from under you within the hour.
But, as Graham tacitly admitted, this isn't about whether or not Judge Sotomayor will become Justice Sotomayor. She will. Nor is it really about qualifications, or concerns about judicial philosophy. It is, first, about payback. Republicans are still grinding their teeth over what they saw as unfair criticism of nominees Clarence Thomas and Robert Bork.
The Sotomayor-bashing is also, however, about running for the next election. The Republican members of the Judiciary Committee are playing to the their shrinking base of old, angry and bitter white men. And they're selling the only thing left to sell, since they long ago abandoned anything resembling principles or ideas: They're selling fear. Fear of the Scary Brown People who are Coming to Take Your Stuff.
This strategy was expressed most nakedly by another former GOP presidential candidate, Tom Tancredo, who blasted Sotomayor's membership in the Latino civil rights organization La Raza, which he called the "Latino KKK." Of course, Tancredo didn't seem to have any problem with La Raza backing George W. Bush's attorney general, Alberto Gonzales, who at one time was being floated as a possible Bush SCOTUS nominee.
But who cares about consistency when you have white folks to scare and money to collect? And after all, who cares if the GOP alienates Latinos and women with their snarky, smug, and condescending questions, including Sen. Tom Coburn telling Sotomayor in a broad Ricky Ricardo accent that "She got some 'splainin' to do"? Who really needs the fastest-growing group of voters in the country (not to mention women)? Yeah, good plan.
Enjoy your minority status, guys. It looks like you're going to keep it for a while.