By Marc Seltzer; originally published on June 9, 2009, at care2.com
Is it all right that Newt Gingrich called a sitting federal judge with a stellar record a “racist”?
How about Rush Limbaugh rallying the conservative base by demonizing Judge Sonia Sotomayor’s opinions as racially biased?
Isn’t this more like 50s’ McCarthyism, bullying your political enemies with politically loaded names — even when they don’t fit?
There should be no concern about Judge Sotomayor’s prospects for confirmation by the Senate. Senate Republican Jeff Sessions, top republican on the Judiciary Committee, which will conduct hearings, is a former federal prosecutor and can tell the difference between political mudslinging and a real issue about a biased judge. Her opinions, which I will go into in my next post, are highly regarded by lawyers and judges. Conservatives should be applauding Judge Sotomayor because she is tough, judicially restrained, and respectful of legal authority. You will see many Republican Senators honor her extensive resume of public service, her judicial philosophy and her meticulous opinions during the hearings and confirmation process to come.
But in the lead up, before she has the opportunity to testify before the Senate, is it fair game to call her names, whether justified or not? “Racist” is one of the ugliest terms to label an American citizen. The spirit of the country is that “all men are created equal,” and while it is obviously an evolving picture, the ideas of equality are core beliefs in what it means to be American.
McCarthy called people “un-American.” And some of his targets indeed held loyalties to our enemy’s political beliefs or systems. Others did not, but were tarred just the same until, in the most famous of McCarthy’s eventual dressing downs, counselor Welch for the U.S. Army interrupted McCarthy during televised hearings: “I think I never gauged your cruelty or recklessness….Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?.”
Gingrich’s and Limbaugh’s conservative political philosophy includes fundamental truths as did McCarthy’s, buy they suffer from the same problem as McCarthy as well: Power corrupts. They have such power over their followers that they can at times cross the line into injustice, indignity, and mistruth without paying for it. This is no slight against Libertarian or Conservative political beliefs. There are many nuggets of truth in a philosophy seeking control over government, strict constitutional interpretation, and fiscal responsibility.
But Limbaugh and Gingrich are attacking now while there is no accounting. When the hearings come and real analysis is laid on the table, their early words will look foolish, although they will have been disavowed or revised by then. They would not want to risk a real head to head match up of ideas on this one.
At the end of six weeks of hearings in June of 1954, Senator Stuart Symington said to McCarthy, “The American people have had a look at you for six weeks. You are not fooling anyone.” America won the Cold War against Communism, but we didn’t do it by attacking each other for political advantage. It was won by better ideas facilitated by honest government and real democracy.
Taking this lesson forward: America would benefit from an education about judicial philosophy, but personal attacks, on esteemed public servants without credible justification and outside of a hearing process, lower both the level of public discourse and respect for our democratic institutions.