Newt Takes Lead In Racist Attack On Sotomayor

by: Paul Rosenberg

Sat May 30, 2009 at 17:15

NOTE:  I should be fundraising here, folks.  I wanted to give you good reasons to support the site before rattling the old tin cup.  But as often happens, instead of polishing something off I got carried away in a whole new direction, and so I've got the post below.  But please consider as you read it if there is anywhere else on the net where you're likely to read this particular take.  I'm sure there are some.  But there are few, if any, that are situated the way that Open Left is.  Please consider what that means, and act accordingly

As I noted in an earlier diary, Newt Gingrich has gone all-in with a nutjob email attack on Sotomayor.  In this diary, I want to deconstruct Gingrich's attack, explicating both the lies and the racism involved.  The racism is most accurately understood in terms of preserving white racial  power, along the lines indicated by social dominance theory, which is a theory of group dominance.  As a consequence, and a result of the civil rights revolution of the 1960s, the old power relations are largely maintained in the deceptive guise of a new dispensation.  Three inter-related patterns are particularly salient for the analysis in this diary: (1) A new pseudo-egalitarian narrative, involving language such as "equal opportunity, not equal outcomes" is used to ensure against equal outcomes, while distracting attention from the fact that opportunities remain vastly unequal. (2) The realities of historical and material context are suppressed, so that a realistic critical analysis of existing conditions is rendered impossible.  (3) All attention is focused on (or deflected away from) individual actors, about whom narratives can readily be shape-shifted on the spot.

Before turning to examine Gingrich's email directly, I want to turn to an illuminating NY Times op-ed, "Rogues, Robes and Racists" by Charles M. Blow, which begins thus:

Someone pinch me. I must be dreaming. Some of the same Republicans who have wielded the hot blade of racial divisiveness for years, are now calling Sonia Sotomayor, the Supreme Court nominee, a racist. Oh, the hypocrisy!

The same Newt Gingrich who once said that bilingual education was like teaching "the language of living in a ghetto" tweeted that Sotomayor is a "Latina woman racist." The same Rush Limbaugh who once told a black caller to "take that bone out of your nose and call me back" called Sotomayor a "reverse racist." The same Tom Tancredo, a former congressman, who once called Miami, which has a mostly Hispanic population, "a third world country" said that Sotomayor "appears to be a racist."

This is rich.

Even Michael Steele, the bungling chairman of The Willie Horton Party knows that the Republicans have no standing on this issue. In an interview published in GQ magazine in March, he was asked: "Why do you think so few nonwhite Americans support the Republican Party right now?" His response: "Cause we have offered them nothing! And the impression we've created is that we don't give a damn about them or we just outright don't like them." Ding, ding, ding, ding.

As Blow's first few paragraphs make plain, there is little doubt that those leading the attacks on Sotomayor are themselves infected with the very same racism they claim to see in her.  And he proceeds to demonstrate the vacuity of their attacks in greater detail.  Yet, even his explication suffers from an over-concentration on the individual actors within the field of sustained white privilege, as opposed to a focus on the field itself.  Blow is working primarily within the constraints of this new dispensation, and so the most he can possibly achieve is to reveal contradictions within it.  He does this quite brilliantly, but such a strategy is necessarily limited in how far it can go.

Paul Rosenberg :: Newt Takes Lead In Racist Attack On Sotomayor
Following a brief discussion of the politics involved--including the rise of anti-Latino rhetoric and hate crimes--Blow turns to look at Sotomayor, and to compare her to other Supreme Court nominees, using an individualist framework of racial attitudes:

Politics aside, what exactly did Sotomayor say that got everyone in a huff? In a 2001 speech she said, "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." She acknowledged a racial bias. That doesn't make her a racist.

Why? Because racism exists along a spectrum. On one end is the mere existence of racial bias. Harvard's Project Implicit, an online laboratory, has demonstrated that most of us have this bias, whether we are conscious of it or not.

Somewhere in the middle of the spectrum are the conscious expressions of that bias in the form of prejudices. On the other end, at the extreme, are deliberate acts of racial discrimination based on those prejudices. That's where the racists dwell.

This notion of a spectrum is certainly better, and more accurate than a simplistic racist/not-racist dichotomy.  But the focus on individual attitudes rather than the social matrix of power relations serves to submerge the vast majority of white power and privilege that's part of America's racial equation today.  And, indeed, his characterization of Sotomayor's statement--taken out of context as it is--utterly fails to grasp how it is part of a positive, pro-active attempt to deal with that larger equation of power relations.

Still, setting those deficiencies aside, Blow goes on to make a powerful point.  He first notes:

I have yet to read or hear of Sotomayor's acts of racial discrimination.

And then goes on to compare her to former Chief Justice William Rehnquist and current Chief Justice John Roberts.  Rehnquist is well-known for drafting a memo for Justice Robert Jackson during the deliberations over Brown v. Board of Education, in which he argued that "Plessy v. Ferguson was right and should be reaffirmed."  He was also involved in GOP anti-black and anti-Lationo voter-suppression operations in Arizona during the 1905s.

As for Boberts, who replaced Rehnquist in 2005:

That year, Newsday reported that Roberts had made racist and sexist jokes in memos that he wrote while working in the Reagan White House. And, The New York Review of Books published a scolding article in 2005 making the case that during the same period that he was making those jokes, Roberts marshaled a crusader's zeal in his efforts to roll back the civil rights gains of the 1960s and '70s - everything from voting rights to women's rights. The article began, "The most intriguing question about John Roberts is what led him as a young person whose success in life was virtually assured by family wealth and academic achievement to enlist in a political campaign designed to deny opportunities for success to those who lack his advantages."

Blow concludes his piece by saying:

Gingrich tweeted that "a white man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw." Make up your own minds about where Rehnquist's and Roberts's words and actions should fall on the racism spectrum, but both were overwhelmingly confirmed.

Until someone can produce proof of words and actions on the part of Sotomayor that even approach the scale of Rehnquist's and Roberts's, all I see is men throwing skeleton bones from class closets.

Yet, if one shifts attention away from the individuals, and toward the larger social context, the field, or cultural situation, something much, much stronger can be said--namely that Roberts and Rehnquist's actions furthering white supremacy were almost completely normalized.  It was not just the two Chief Justices who acted in an overlty racist manner, the entire political system acquiessed and colluded to hand them one of the most powerful posts in the land.  And this was done so matter-of-factly that many millions of racially progressive people do not even know that this was done.

It is this pervasive normalization of the continued exercise of white power, so without consequences that it is generally not even notices, that is the true indication of just how racist--or, more precisely, how white supremacist our nation remains.  And it is only in the light of this blatantly white supremacy that the full absurdity of Gingrich's claim is revealed.

Indeed, taking the impunity of Roberts and Rehnquist as our benchmark, Gingrich's claim is not simply absurd, rather, it is both a reinforcement of the existing system of white supremacy, and a direct attack on Sotomayor precisely because her racial consciousness embodies a potential threat to that continued white supremacy.  (Though not as much of a threat as I'd like.)

In short, Gingrich's claim itself is a racist, white supremacist act.

So, too, is his attempt to appropriate Martin Luther King and use him to attack Sotomayor.  It's now time to examine the full email attack.

Newt's Racist Email Attack

Before I begin, I must underscore a principle point:  one of the main points of looking at social context as primary is that overt acts devoid of specifically racial elements can nonetheless have profoundly powerful racial impacts.  An approach that highlights social context will make the racist import of such acts plainly visible, while an approach that only looks at elements in terms of overt content will completely miss the big story.

Swampland has the email text:

From the Desk of Newt Gingrich
"I have a dream: that my four little children will one day live
in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their
skin, but by the content of their character."

- Dr. Martin Luther King

Conservatives have long used this quote to pretend that King was one of their own, as if they somehow had a patent on character.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  King's conception of character is perhaps best captured in his speech, The Drum Major Instinct, as I discussed 14 years ago in my MLK Birthday essay, "Martin Luther King - A Different Drum Major", which began thus:

It's fashionable today to pose the theme of personal responsibility in opposition to the continued quest for social justice. We even hear Reverend Martin Luther King quoted out of context, as if judging people by the "content of their character" was meant to endorse the idea that some of us should starve, some should go homelss, and some should shiver naked in the midst of winter.

But Dr. King didn't think that the content of our characters was something coldly quantifiable, capable of being determined by the marketplace, like the price of pork rind or pig iron. When he spoke of personal responsibility he had a much more lofty view in mind: that we are each responsible not just for ourselves, but for each other, and for our collective redemption from the sins of our past that stain us still. He did not falsely oppose the ideas of personal responsibility and commitment to social justice. Rather, he saw the commitment to social justice--rooted in the Gospels--as a means for transforming mere egotism and blind ambition into engines of individual redemption--the crowning reward of personal responsibility.

Gingrich is out to use King's quote even more perniciously than how it was being used when I wrote that essay, but the intent of King's original vision remains as steadfastly opposed to the conservative hi-jackers as ever.

Gingrich again:

Can you imagine if the President of the United States nominated a judge to the U.S. Supreme Court who said this:

[A] "My experience as a white man will make me a better judge than a Latina woman would be."

[B] Or could you imagine if that same judge ruled from the bench to deny 18 African-American firefighters a promotion just because of their skin color?

[C] That judge would be called a bigot -- and in my judgment, rightly so! Would there be any doubt that he would be FORCED to WITHDRAW his nomination for the Supreme Court?


So, three things:

(1) As shown in my diary, "What Sotomayor ACTUALLY Said, And Why No Apology Is Necessary", in [A] Gingrich is, by analogy, completely and maliciously misrepresenting what Sotomayor said--so totally that it can only be considered an outright lie.

(2) As shown in my diary, "Ricci Ticky Tacky--More Abysmal Ignorance In The Argument Against Sotomayor", in [B] Gingrich is, by analogy, completely and maliciously misrepresenting what Sotomayor did--so totally that it can only be considered an outright lie.

(3) As shown in this diary, above, in the passages quoted from Charles Blow's NYT op-ed, in [C] Gingrich is claiming a standard of intolerance for racism that was totally absent in the confirmation process for both Rehnquist and Roberts, and thus this claim, too, can only be considered an outright lie.

Now, here we have an email that starts off with three massive lies, and then calls for the withdrawal of the nomination of the first Latina to be nominated to the Supreme Court.  

Well, if that isn't racism, it will just have to do until the real thing comes along.

But, of course, this is Newt, so it only gets worse:

There are only two options for how we govern ourselves - by laws, or by the will of those in power. The rule of law represents objective, dispassionate knowable standards that are applied and enforced equally to all citizens regardless of their background.

The will of those in power represents subjective, fleeting standards that are never fully known by any and are applied purely to satisfy the wishes of a small, concentrated group in power.

Well, Newt is one of the prime practitioners of the GOP's governing by "the will of those in power," so he should know about that option.  And as befits the megalomaniac he is, he will do everything in his power to tar others with the brush that's fit for him.  But the reality is--as anyone should know--that the rule of law is an ideal we strive for (well, some of us, at least), and that Sotomayor's words as well as her judicial record can only be understood in terms of that struggle.

It's a measure of Newt's incredible position of privilege that he can speak so glibly of the rule of law, as if it were something that could be turned off and on with the flip of a switch.

True justice is blind. It does not consider one's religion, wealth, race or in this case sex, family origin and ethnicity. To do so would be unjust.

To put someone on our nation's highest court who believes these traits should be considered in cases before the court, would be wrong.

This flies directly in the face of decades of civil rights law, and thousands of court decisions, which recognize the necessity of considering race in order to determine if racial injury has been done. These are the words of a racist demagogue, pretending that simply closing our eyes will make all the pre-existing racial injustice in our land magically disappear.

Judge Sonia Sotomayor has proven, by her own admission, that she is such a judge. Knowing this, President Obama should withdraw her nomination to the Supreme Court.

Because her words and actions are in the mainstream of 40 years of civil rights law, Obama should withdraw her nomination?  This is like listening to George Wallace, circa 1963.

Consider what Judge Sotomayor said about how her being a Latina woman will affect her decisions as a judge:

"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."

You read that right -- Judge Sotomayor said that her experience as a person of a particular sex and ethnic background will make her a better judge than a person of another sex and a different ethnic background!

When did that view become acceptable?

As I clearly showed in my earlier diary, this interpretation is utterly false.  White supremacists have routinely misrepresented the thoughts, speech, values and intentions of people of color throughout the ages to make people of color seem qualitatively inferior, and this is precisely what Newt is doing today.  He is misrepresenting her with reckless disregard for the truth, just as white supremacists have always done.

If Civil War, suffrage, and Civil Rights are to mean anything, we cannot accept that conclusion. It is simply un-American. There is no room on the bench of the United States Supreme Court for this worldview.

So, not only is the white supremacist putting words in Sonia Sotomayor's mouth, as white supremacists have always done.  He is now condemning her as un-American, and invoking all the struggles that he and his kind have bitterly opposed in order to reinforce that accusation.

This is, arguably, one of the lowest acts of political slander in American history.

The checks and balances between the three branches of government are designed to prevent any small faction of society from exerting undue influence over the rest of us. If President Obama will not withdraw his nomination, then the Senate has a duty to ensure that judges with who hold these beliefs are not confirmed to serve on the Supreme Court


Ah, yes.  It's a constitutional imperative that only judges committed to overturning civil rights law can be allowed to serve on the Supreme Court!

There's more.  Much, much more.  But time grows short, and I need to share this and move on.  So I will stop here.  The case is clearly more than made.  In the very act of maliciously slander Sonia Sotomayor, Newt revels himself as exactly what he accused her of being: a race-blinded bigot totally outside the mainstream of American law.

Now the only question is, will the GOP have the will, the nerve, and the desire to repudiate him, and have done with racism, once and for all?  Or will they continue as they have been for the past 40-odd years?

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thanks for this (4.00 / 6)
newt needs to be buried.  thoroughly.  it was bad enough when he was saying stuff he actually thought but for someone who played as great a role as he did in undermining the rights of and destrying the lives of countless black, poor, immigrant, female, lGBT and other people who were extremely vulnerable to politics in the 1990s to be invoking martin luther king and talking abut justice is so far beyond the pale that it's an outrage.

My favorite part:

True justice is blind. It does not consider one's religion, wealth, race or in this case sex, family origin and ethnicity. To do so would be unjust.

You know what was unjust?  the 1994-1999 republican agenda that he had such a strong role in shaping, 'welfare reform' driven by a racist public relations campaign, anti lgbt and anti immigrant and anti woman legislation he helped lead the passage of, that he has never faced the requisite amount of public scrutiny for the many many things he has said and done, and that he is, for some completely unfathomable reason, a 'respectable' public opinion - and on matters of race even!!!  when will this mofo go away!?!?!

i really hope this episode is transparent enough and times have changed enough that even the mainstream media see through this.  if they don't, well, double thanks paul for helping keeping some of the rest of us sane by knowing there is someone out there to hold newt's slippery feet to the fire.  i guess the 1990s aren't quite over just yet ;)

and one more thing (4.00 / 2)
tangential but coming from a similar spirit:  i want that f"£king airport renamed from reagan national airport or whatever it is.  no one who breaks the labor unions by firing thousands of air traffic controllers should have an airport named after them - which is exactly why the f"£ker republicans then in congress did that, i'm sure.  a friend told me a former air traffic controller he knows said that he wanted to hang himself when he found out they were naming that airprt after him.

SDO (4.00 / 4)
It seems that the Social Dominant Orientation personality type has some special properties.

Those who preach "virtue" have been shown to be adulterers, philanderers, sexual predators, compulsive gamblers and drug addicts, extortionists, and embezzlers. So it's not surprising that they are also racists, it all part of their view that are special people and not subject to the rules that everyone else has to follow.

What remains amazing is that these people get to lecture everyone else on virtue and their rightwing followers don't notice the inconsistency. Apparently "do what I say and not what I do" has replaced the golden rule.

As for the current flap over Sotomayer, these guys just have to prove their moral corruptness once again. Apparently they have gotten so used to being the darlings of the media, that now that they have no real influence anymore they will just go to any lengths to get face time on TV. The friendly media is not doing the GOP any favors by enabling these guys, all that happens is the brand gets even further tarnished.

Well the Roundheads didn't understand political reality either.  

Policies not Politics

Good News/Bad News??? (4.00 / 1)
Apparently they have gotten so used to being the darlings of the media, that now that they have no real influence anymore they will just go to any lengths to get face time on TV. The friendly media is not doing the GOP any favors by enabling these guys, all that happens is the brand gets even further tarnished.

Downside for the GOP brand, perhaps.  But upside for who, exactly?

Aside from Stephen Colbert, that is.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Sorry, what Sotomayor said was borderline racist (0.00 / 0)
She said that she would tend to be a better judge due to her background.  No amount of your ranting/deflecting about 100 year old injustices changes that.  Even Obama is apologizing for it.  IMO, it's no big deal, she will make a fine judge, but it was wrong.  And if this is the worst she has done, she has a remarkably clean background.

Now, it's all true that Newt et. al are far from perfect.  But if progressives can't call out racist remarks from their own, they aren't being very honest.  

I'm more of a centrist lurker so I didn't use "we" above.

Perhaps You Should've Remained A "Centrist Lucker" (4.00 / 3)
Because obviously you didn't read a damn thing what Paul wrote, not to mention comprehend it. Then again, I figure you're probably a Republican who is posing as a "centrist" as if that gives you credibility by repeating EXACTLY what the wingnuts are saying.

If you're going to repeat the same crap that one gets from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, I beg you to remain a lucker. You're not contributing anything to the comment section.

[ Parent ]
Um, yeah (4.00 / 3)
Being a member of an historically underprivileged and maligned minority (and gender) yet having nevertheless successfully strived to overcome such obstacles to become an unqualified success in one's chosen field not only doesn't make one more qualified to judge others in the broadest sense of the term than a bunch of overprivileged rich white guys whose greatest "struggle" was having to choose between Harvard and Yale, but saying so anyway makes one a racist as well. Ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooookay.

And yes, I know that the courts have women and minorities now. But they're still greatly outnumbered by WASP men. And many of those women and minorities have been "House Negroed" into essentially being WASP men in disguise.

And to even attempt to put her remarks or accomplishments on the same level as that of a literal piece of human filth such as Newt is to self-reveal in a way that is transparent.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

[ Parent ]
Racism is about systems of power, not words. (4.00 / 3)
Did you read the post?

If we lived in a country in which Latina women compromised 99% of our government, most of our doctors, lawyers, CEOs, etc, then her words might be racist. Maybe.

But we don't. Try again.

Montani semper liberi

[ Parent ]
Sorry To Say This, But YOU'RE Being Racist (4.00 / 2)
You clearly didn't read my diary, or the previous one I referred to.  Or if you did you simply ignored it, just as you ignored the full context of what Sotomayor herself said.  And what lets you get away with doing that--at least in your own mind--is precisely the "realities of historical and material context" which make it perfectly acceptable to disregard Sotomayor's actual words, and actual deeds, and to substitute a complete fabrication in their place.

And that is racist.

But thanks for reminding folks of just why Obama's uncalled-for apology was such a bad idea.  It helps to legitimate further unconscious racist rationalizations, rather than helping to bring them to an end.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
I have to applaud Obama here (4.00 / 3)
for giving the far-right an opportunity to once again reveal themselves to be the loathsome racists and sexists that they are and always have been. In fact I think that it was wilfull on Obama's part. He put out the bait, and they instinctively took it, hook, line and sinker. But this isn't 1968, 1980, or even 1992, and the country just isn't receptive to their brand of bigotry anymore, and this will just backfire for them. Sure, the teabaggers will lap it up. But they'll lick a dog's shitty ass if it has a picture of St. Ronnie on it. But the center just isn't into their Southern Strategy anymore, and it's not only not going to work, but it'll hurt them further.

And they have SOOOOOOO lost the Latino vote for the next 10-20 years. Even the old Miami Cubans have about had it with them, I think. A bunch of racist far-right white guys with four letter words for first names are putting yet more nails in the modern conservative coffin, and they just can't help it. It's in their genes. And Obama's giving them the hammer and nails.

"Those who stand for nothing fall for anything...Mankind are forever destined to be the dupes of bold & cunning imposture" -- Alexander Hamilton

I just want to thank you Paul. (4.00 / 2)
So much of your stuff is a resource for people needing to think clearly. I wish for example Obama had read these pieces before going soft on the subject. Soft in the head, not soft as in I see what your saying.

His giving credence by saying essentially "I understand your misread of her words" is just an insult to Judge Sotomayor. And an insult to us all.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

Thanks (4.00 / 4)
It's very much a social process.  The clarity comes from striving together.

Actually, I wish Obama had said, "I understand your misread of her words".  I wish he had said exactly that.  And then gone on to explain why it was a misread.

There's nothing wrong with wanting to reach out, and expressing understanding.  The problem is that he validates misreading rather than challenging and correcting it.  And thus he perpetuates further misunderstanding.

"You know what they say -- those of us who fail history... doomed to repeat it in summer school." -- Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Season 6, Episode 3

[ Parent ]
Exactly. (0.00 / 0)
He needs more people in the inner circle, these are rookie errors.

At least someone should effing well do some better community or Crowdsourcing

Ideally of course when this shit is about to go down some talking to people good at this. Or even better hire consultants like Paul.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
My guess is that it's less rookies (0.00 / 0)
making these mistakes, and more old hands who don't realize that 2009 is not 1994.  You don't need to apologize because Newt is angry - instead, its probably a sign that you are doing something right.

I've been thinking about the idea that Republicans say they need to fight this nomination to fire up the base. It seems absurd on its face, if you assume that the idea is that this could lead to electoral victories (if we keep our base fired up, we'll be ready for 2010.)

But if Democrats are already running a little scared over the nomination, if they continue to act as though they haven't won the last two elections, if they continue to respond to discredited people with little following like Newt, a different picture emerges.  

Democratic officials are still scared of the Republican base but have little fear of the Democratic base.  Firing them up could well have a significant impact, if it pushes more Democrats into the Ben Nelson zone.  

Now that is scary.

Politics is the art of the possible, but that means you have to think about changing what is possible, not that you have to accept it in perpetuity.

[ Parent ]
I am not sure I agree. (0.00 / 0)
One as Chris says; Sotomayor is going to go througfh easily, with only the wingnuttiest trying to score points off her, while assuring there will be no filibuster, and actually splitting their base in the process.

I am sure the "coalitionists" in Obama's Cabinet, of which he is the driving force, can see clearly the effects of their work to drive the sane portion of the independent and republican vote into the Democratic "universe."

I think there are three groups in the "cautious caucus" that we're discussing here.

1. the old line cowards who have been trained, as you say, to parrot right wing lines. These may eventually get a wake up call. The primary for Leiberman and the future primary for Spector(GO Sestak!) may be the jolt they need as to who has the shove at the moment.

Second we have the coalitionists, who won't say a damn word that disrespects the holders of stale republican 'ideals', even as they take apart those failed paradigms.

Ands this third part, that falls into neither, thats simply not ready to formulate the ideas as clearly as Paul R. has done in this very complete set of posts and analyses.


The government has a defect: it's potentially democratic. Corporations have no defect: they're pure tyrannies. -Chomsky

[ Parent ]
Lakoff (4.00 / 2)
George Lakoff has a nice piece on "empathy" on DailyKos, that ties into the general discussions around here.

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