May 28, 2009

Does That Race Bait Ever Catch Any Fish?

What we are seeing right now is a very sly move on the part of conservative pundits and talking heads - from the incomprehensible and increasingly opaque Mr. Limbaugh to the relatively insubstantial Glen Beck - in their criticisms of Sonia Sotomayor. They call her a "racist" and a "bigot". Limbaugh goes so far as to call her a "hack" and a "reverse racist". I will not say that members of Congress have leveled such a claim upon her, because they have allowed right-wing hatchet men to do that for them. Suddenly, the Republicans have become the spineless Democrats, since their only claims on Sotomayor so far is that her views are "troubling". This sort of nonexistent critique of a potential candidate is "troubling" to me and bad for the country. When all you have is a Party of No in the Republicans and a Party of Whatever in the Democrats, then it does not speak very well of our country's direction.

But I digress.

What makes the right-wing punditry's criticisms of Sotomayor so sly is that the intention is to draw out race-baiting from the side of the Dems to curry favor for the candidate. If the Dems come out in public and say, "Mrs. Sotomayor, who is a Hispanic woman, is being attacked because..." then the other side has the advantage. It turns into an issue of whether or not she is being hoisted up for the Supreme Court for her ethnicity rather than her policies, and that does not bode well for an administration promising change as its main slogan.

The Democrats have begun to take the bait, though probably not with as much vigor as the right would like, and it will be interesting to see just how far the argument about race will go.

What is troubling is that it is the same defense that Limbaugh did give in defending Alberto Gonzales when he was to be confirmed as Attorney General and what, I'm sure, Glen Beck would have said, were he able to say anything. Limbaugh carried Gonzales's ethnicity like a banner when defending him, and it worked, to a certain extent. Democratic members of Congress had to backpedal and insist that their criticisms, which, I admit, were valid, had to do with his policies and not his race, which only muddled the waters and allowed any true criticisms of Mr. Gonzales to be lost in the shuffle.

And the opposite is true. What people like Limbaugh have done is take the race card and play it successfully against those who have historically played it, getting the other side to take the bait and make the debate over matters revolve around race and not the issue. That is an inherent weakness of Democrats. They do not, by the way, take the high road; that is not my implication. They are simply too afraid of offending anyone to not be sucked into the race debate, and that is how they often lose these ostensible PR campaigns.

If the race card can be played to muddy the waters on a person's lack of credentials for an office, it can also be done to muddy the waters when a person is clearly qualified, as Mrs. Sotomayor seems to be. That is what members of the right have discovered, and, though the tactic doesn't always work - I imagine that Sonia Sotomayor will be selected for the Supreme Court - it is a tactic that can almost always be used in the absence of a political smoking gun.

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