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The Ornery Observer
August 25, 2009

Republicans Opposing Sotomayor Showed True Grit
by Paul Gottfried

ELIZABETHTOWN, PA — The decision by 31 Republican Senators to vote against the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor as a Supreme Court justice showed true grit.

Despite the call for appeasement coming from the media and leading GOP columnists, most of the Republican Senators voted against someone who, in view of her judicial record, does not believe in a right to equal protection under the law for all Americans. Sotomayor’s position in the Ricci case was not merely an attempt to observe a particular precedent, one providing a special status to minority applicants for government employment. Her stand indicated what the candidate considers her public role, namely, to bring the lenses of a Latino and a woman to the task of interpreting constitutional law.

It is not true that the GOP painted itself into a corner because a majority of its senators rejected Sotomayor’s jurisprudence. Those senators were doing what is politically advantageous as well as morally right. Having lost the Hispanic vote overwhelmingly in 2008, despite the frenzied wooing of Latino voters by the Bush-Rove administration, the GOP would not win back these voters by following the Democrats in their support of Sotomayor. On the contrary: Sotomayor’s GOP opponents are on the cusp of an electoral trend, although they may be unaware of the implications of their action.

S. Sotomayor

True grit was shown by the 31 Republican Senators
who voted against Sonia Sotomayor

As Pat Buchanan pointed out in his August 10 column quoting economist Ed Rubenstein, white males have been the worst hit and legal Hispanics the least hit by rising unemployment. In the last nine years, Hispanics have generally done better in finding jobs than whites or blacks. It is therefore doubtful that the view of Hispanics as a disadvantaged minority, requiring privileged access to jobs, would appeal, especially at this point, to the general public.

In the present economic crisis, in which whites are losing their jobs faster than others, transcending racial divisions on the back of the dominant ethnic group will find fewer and fewer takers. The party that promises to treat all groups impartially, while forcing public administration to step back from directing their lives and pocketbooks, will likely do best at the polls. Contrary to the received wisdom, it is the Democrats more than the Republicans who are stuck with pesky voters. The gun lobby and the right to life movement are not about to jump ship, and their members will vote for almost anyone bearing the R label, a practice that for better or worse is followed by most white Protestant Americans.

But the Democratic constituencies are far more demanding because they consist mostly of those who feel discriminated against, and because they insist on favors as a matter of social justice.

The most accommodating of Democratic ethnic constituencies may be the Jews and Irish, who have remained overwhelmingly Democratic because of ancestral grievances. These Democratic loyalists don’t ask much from their party, except for patronage and/or continued opposition to the Religious Right.

Reflex loyalty to the Democrats has likewise come from the liberal clergy and, above all, from academics. Being Democratic for these groups confers a special moral worth. It indicates that they are more caring and enlightened (at least in their minds) than their parents and cousins, people who might have entered a business world that is anathema to intellectuals and who still talk earnestly about biblical views of the family.

The other Democratic constituencies are harder to deal with. Self-consciously disadvantaged ethnic minorities and militant lifestyle liberals ask for favors, such as government-imposed minority set-asides and anti-hate laws, which do not resonate well with those whose liberties are being trampled. But the Democrats have to appease their core voters — or else pay a heavy price. Although these constituencies will not switch over to the GOP, once turned off they may not come out to vote, or at least not in the numbers that the Democrats need to win.

The strategy of the Obama administration has been to serve its base by pushing the country leftward on social policies and judicial appointments while at the same time offering the general public a bundle of material goodies. Among these prizes have been bailouts and now a health plan, one that will provide medical insurance under government scrutiny for everyone, possibly including those who have entered the country illegally.

But the goodies that have been awarded or are being proposed have created widespread doubts about Obama’s management of the economy, and by now only partisan Democrats think that he is restoring the country economically. It seems clear that the ruling party has a bigger mess on its hands than its Republican opposition. And it would be foolish for that opposition to imitate the Democrats by groveling to Democratic constituencies (and by unintentionally begging for their headaches). The GOP has survived not because of — but in spite of — that practice.

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The Ornery Observer is copyright © 2009 by by Paul Gottfried and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation.  All rights reserved. A version of this column appeared in the Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Newspapers in October 2008. All rights reserved.

Paul Gottfried, Ph.D., is the Raffensperger professor of Humanities at Elizabethtown College in Pennsylvania.
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