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June 8, 2009
‘Racist’ Canard Obscures the Real Issues
serious debate about the serious problems inherent in Sonia Sotomayor’s
judicial philosophy would be a really good idea right about now, but it
doesn’t appear we’re going to have any such thing. Instead, we’re
discussing the absurd idea that she is a racist – a notion given birth
by a man who makes no bones about the fact that he illustrates absurdity
by being absurd.
Rush Limbaugh is brilliant at what he does, which, as he will plainly
tell you, is to acquire and hold as large an audience as he can, as long
as he can, so he can charge confiscatory advertising rates. He is the
best broadcaster in the history of broadcasting, and what makes him so
good is that he takes his own sincerely held, well-reasoned beliefs and
presents them in an entertaining way.
What Rush is not is a policy formation leader, nor is he
interested in or probably capable of governing. It is not his job to get
a bill passed or to get a nominee confirmed – or rejected. This is not
to embrace that usual criticism that Rush “doesn’t really believe what
he says; he’s just an entertainer.” Of course he believes it. And he
expresses himself in an intentionally provocative way because that’s how
he makes his show a success. Power to him.
There is something wrong, however, with Rush’s fans thinking they can do
it as well as he can do it, or worse, taking his words and thinking they
are the best words to use in a serious debate about the policies and
future of our nation. Rush’s old homeless updates were hilarious, and
made a serious point about the phoniness of the homeless issue. But you
wouldn’t attempt to win a serious policy debate on homelessness by
singing a Clarence “Frogman” Henry tune during a committee hearing.
Rush knows the difference. Conservative America, do you?
Rush recently did his classic illustrating-absurdity-by-being-absurd
routine in declaring Sotomayor a racist – a commentary on her
now-infamous statement that she hoped she, as a “wise Latina woman,”
would make better rulings than a white male. If you’ve listened to Rush
very much – and I’ve listened to him for 20 years – you know what this
is. Rush takes a standard that Democrats and the mainstream media would
apply to any conservative and turns it around on them, applying it to
one of their own.
Samuel Alito had made an equivalent statement prior to his confirmation,
would he be sitting on the Supreme Court? Of course not. Would he have
been branded a racist? Absolutely.
Does Rush really think Sotomayor is a racist? I doubt it, and he doesn’t
need to for his point to be valid. It worked like a charm on the radio.
But when people like Newt Gingrich and a few U.S. senators posit the
same idea as part of a supposedly serious debate on a Supreme Court
nominee, you have to wonder if the rest of America’s conservatives have
simply shut off their brains and decided to let Rush put the words in
e-mail and my reader forum in the past two weeks have been flooded with
comments from conservatives bemoaning the “racist Sotomayor.” They’re
convinced that this is the fight to have with respect to this particular
But by choosing to go all in with the racism charge, Sotomayor’s critics
are picking a fight they can’t win. You can’t demonstrate that someone
is a racist based on the statement she made, and by making the debate
about her “racism,” and then losing said debate, conservatives miss an
opportunity to accomplish something more worthwhile.
That’s because a serious discussion of Sotomayor’s shortcomings gets
lost in the hubbub. She is not a racist, but she is deeply
steeped in left-wing identity politics, and thinks it’s a judge’s job to
side with certain favored groups at the expense of others whenever the
law provides her enough of an opening to do so.
That’s a pretty big problem. It suggests she has the makings of an
atrocious Supreme Court justice. And while she’s likely to get confirmed
anyway, it would be useful for conservatives to lead a discussion about
this, because if the public comes to understand how the left views the
role of the judiciary, the public won’t like it.
But we’re not going to have that debate. The conservative base would
rather run with the Sotomayor-as-racist canard because it sounded really
clever when Rush said it.
Brilliant broadcasting has little in common with serious political and
policy achievement. It’s bad enough that Sotomayor is going to be
confirmed. Do conservatives have to make it worse by rejecting a very
valid line of attack against her and embracing an idiotic one instead?
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