The GOP's “Racism” Reversal

Newt and Rush sort of warm up to Sotomayor

Judge Sonia Sotomayor, a racist?

That's, like, so month of May, yo! 

On Wednesday, in a scenario we've seen unveil before with figures in the Republican Party, there was another backing away of harsh words and denunciations -- and again, Rush Limbaugh was in the middle of it. 

One big difference this time:  He was one of the people appearing to back away from his rhetoric!

Rush -- backing down? What is up with that? It was a most peculiar day in GOP-land.

To illustrate that, let's briefly leave Mr. Limbaugh and turn instead to the other really big switch. 

Just a week ago, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich launched a tweet heard 'round the world (literally -- he was traveling in Europe at the time). He responded to one particular problematic line in a 2001 Sotomayor speech, “I would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would more often than not reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life.” 

Gingrich's Twitter take one day after the nomination:  "Imagine a judicial nominee said 'my experience as a white man makes me better than a Latina woman' new racism is no better than old racism." He followed immediately with a second tweet, "White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw. Latina woman racist should also withdraw." (Limbaugh had already called the judge a "reverse racist" based on her refusal to overturn Ricci v. DeStefano -- the discrimination case brought by New Haven firefighters.)

But, on Wednesday, Gingrich -- whom this writer worked for many years ago -- didn't quite do a full U-turn, but did change direction somewhat significantly: Writing both on his own site and for the conservative outlet Human Events, Gingrich retracted the "racist" charge in favor of a more muted, nuanced critique of Sotomayor:

My initial reaction was strong and direct -- perhaps too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor’s fitness to serve on the nation’s highest court have been critical of my word choice.

With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word “racist” should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted).

So it is to her words -- the ones quoted above and others -- to which we should turn, for they show that the issue here is not racial identity politics. Sotomayor’s words reveal a betrayal of a fundamental principle of the American system -- that everyone is equal before the law.

The whole piece is well worth a read. As the last sentence indicates, Gingrich doesn't back down from his basic sense that Sotomayor would not be appropriate for the Supreme Court. But declaring that his first statement was a bit too over the top is a remarkable admission for a one-time A-list player in national politics -- and still a significant figure within the GOP. 

Even though elected Republican Senators such as John Cornyn and Jeff Sessions repudiated the "racist' language, it's nonetheless surprising to see Newt accept which way the political winds were blowing and act accordingly. 

It was doubly so then to see Limbaugh -- the one exhorting Republicans to stick to their guns in going against the Obama administration -- declare that he might be able to live with the Sotomayor nomination after all. 

Even stranger, he said he still considered her a "reverse racist," but was willing to possibly support her because she might not be a  radical on abortion:  "I can see a possibility of supporting this nomination if I can be convinced that she does have a sensibility toward life in a legal sense."  Limbaugh was led to this revelation, ironically, because of Sotomayor's, yes, ethnicity and background: 

"I don't know that it will ever happen, but if you know, the opportunity to get somebody like her, she's a Catholic, she's a devout Catholic, she's a Hispanic Catholic, Puerto Rican, they tend to be devout, she hasn't got a record on this. Normally liberals do have a record," Limbaugh said. 

So, even though he thinks she's still a racist, the fact that she's a "Hispanic Catholic, Puerto Rican," a group that "tends to be devout," leads him to think she could have pro-life tendencies.

So, working on something of a stereotype, Limbaugh now says that he's open to supporting the nomination!!

Gingrich and Limbaugh backing away on their words and positions -- on the same day? 

A quick check outside reveals, no, it's not a full moon. 

But, something weird's sure going on.  

Robert A. George is a New York writer. He blogs at Ragged Thots.

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