One of the more provocative critiques to come from conservatives concerning the appointment of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court has been the charge that her nomination is racial politics at its most cynical. But in the past, Republicans were eager to play up the diversity of their own nominees.
She is "an affirmative action pick," declared Pat Buchanan on MSNBC's Hardball. "Clearly the president was down to four choices, all of them woman, and he picked the Hispanic." Earlier in the day, Rush Limbaugh ramped up the rhetoric even further, proclaiming Sotomayor "a reverse racist" who was appointed by "the greatest living example of a reverse racist" -- Obama.
There are, of course, dangers in proclaiming that a racial-political calculus drove Obama's hand. For starters, such claims deeply offend members of the Hispanic community who rightfully deem Sotomayor more than qualified. In addition, they lend themselves to charges of hypocrisy. Chris Matthews interrupted Buchanan to point out that the Clarence Thomas nomination seemed influenced by racial politics. And a reader notes that when Orrin Hatch took to the Senate floor to push the nomination of Alberto Gonzales for Attorney General, he elevated the nominee's Hispanic roots and accused opponents of racial insensitivity.
"Look, this is not just any nomination," Hatch, then Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman declared on February 1, 2005. "This is a nomination for the Attorney General of the United States of America. This is the first Hispanic ever nominated for that position, or for any of the big four positions in the Cabinet of any President. ... We work with Hispanic people all over America who are every bit as devoted to our country as any citizen who has ever been in this country. I personally love Hispanic people. Frankly, I know my friends in the Hispanic community, and Hispanic people all over America, are watching this debate, and they are sensing something very unfair going on here."
"And to have this man come from the most humble of circumstances, which typifies the struggle every immigrant family in this country has gone through, and to not give him this opportunity when he is fully qualified for it, I think, would be a travesty.
"When I talk to people around the country, I sometimes tell them that within the Hispanic community there is a shared hope for an opportunity to succeed. Just give me a chance to prove myself -- that is a common prayer for those in my community. I ask my colleagues to do exactly that -- give Judge Gonzales a chance to prove himself. He will not let you down."
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