June 2, 2009
The Howls of a Fading Species
By BOB HERBERT
One can only hope that the hysterical howling of right-wingers against the nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court is something approaching a death rattle for this profoundly destructive force in American life.
It’s hard to fathom the heights of hypocrisy currently being scaled by the foaming-in-the-mouth crazies who are leading the charge against the nomination. Newt Gingrich, who never needed a factual basis for his ravings, rants on Twitter that Judge Sotomayor is a “Latina woman racist,” apparently unaware of his incoherence in the “Latina-woman” redundancy in this defamatory characterization.
Karl Rove sneered that Ms. Sotomayor was “not necessarily” smart, thus managing to get the toxic issue of intelligence into play in the case of a woman who graduated summa cum laude from Princeton, went on to get a law degree from Yale and has more experience as a judge than any of the current justices had at the time of their nominations to the court.
It turns the stomach. There is no level of achievement sufficient to escape the stultifying bonds of bigotry. It is impossible to be smart enough or accomplished enough.
The amount of disrespect that has spattered the nomination of Judge Sotomayor is disgusting. She is spoken of, in some circles, as if she were the lowest of the low. Rush Limbaugh — now there’s a genius! — has compared her nomination to a hypothetical nomination of David Duke, a former head of the Ku Klux Klan. “How can a president nominate such a candidate?” Limbaugh asked.
Ms. Sotomayor is a member of the National Council of La Raza, the Hispanic civil rights organization. In the crazy perspective of some right-wingers, the mere existence of La Raza should make decent people run for cover. La Raza is “a Latino K.K.K. without the hoods and the nooses,” said Tom Tancredo, a Republican former congressman from Colorado.
Here’s the thing. Suddenly these hideously pompous and self-righteous white males of the right are all concerned about racism. They’re so concerned that they’re fully capable of finding it in places where it doesn’t for a moment exist. Not just finding it, but being outraged by it to the point of apoplexy. Oh, they tell us, this racism is a bad thing!
Are we supposed to not notice that these are the tribunes of a party that rose to power on the filthy waves of racial demagoguery. I don’t remember hearing their voices or the voices of their intellectual heroes when the Republican Party, as part of its Southern strategy, aggressively courted the bigots who fled the Democratic Party because the Democrats had become insufficiently hostile to blacks.
Where were the howls of outrage at this strategy that was articulated by Lee Atwater as follows: “By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’ — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff.”
Never a peep did you hear.
Where were the right-wing protests when Ronald Reagan went out of his way to kick off his general election campaign in 1980 with a salute to states’ rights in, of all places, Philadelphia, Miss., not far from the site where three young civil rights workers had been snatched and murdered by real-life, rabid, blood-thirsty racists?
We’ve heard ad nauseam Ms. Sotomayor’s comments — awkwardly stated but hardly racist — about what she brings to the bench as a Latina. But how often have we ever heard the awful, hateful position on race offered up by William F. Buckley, the right’s ultimate intellectual champion? He felt comfortable declaring, in the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education decision ordering the desegregation of public schools, that whites had every right to discriminate against blacks because whites belonged to “the advanced race.”
Right-wing howls of protest? I think not.
Ms. Sotomayor’s nomination is a big deal because never before in the history of the United States has any president nominated a Latina to the highest court. Only two blacks have ever been on the court, and the one selected by a Republican has been like a thumb in the eye to most African-Americans.
The court is a living monument to America’s long history of exclusion based on race, ethnic background and gender. Where is the right-wing protest against that?
It was always silly to pretend that the election of Barack Obama was evidence that the U.S. was moving into some sort of post-racial, post-ethnic, post-gender nirvana. But it did offer a basis for optimism. There is every reason to hope that we’ve improved as a society to the point where the racial and ethnic craziness of the Gingriches and Limbaughs will finally have a tough time finding any sort of foothold.
Those types can still cause a lot of trouble, but the ridiculousness of their posture is pretty widely recognized. Thus the desperate howling.
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