The whimpering of the Republican officeholders at the rants of Limbaugh, Gingrich, Tancredo, and Cheney is now so panicky that it is no longer sufficient to presume it is because the politicians fear the Hispanic vote over Sonia Sotomayor or the generic party polls about torture and the bailouts. Rather, it is because the Republican remnants in Congress are arrogant adults who have, by their wordless toleration of the demagogues, become the thing they fear more than losing. They have become cowards.
After hearing out 100 hours of indecency hurled at the ardent and articulate Sotomayor by the Nouveau Demagogues and their choir, and hearing nothing in passionate rebuke from the GOP leaders on the Hill, it is time to accuse each and every one of the Republicans in Congress of betrayal. It is time to say they have abandoned the people who elected them to represent a political party that was built, at the heroic moment of its birth under the guns of the slavers, upon a belief in liberty for all. It is time to challenge them to speak up loudly for our better angels in the face of the conjurers or else confess their lack of interest in the history of the party and find another, less-demanding vocation.
It’s easy to spot the protocols of the Nouveau Demagogues—inflated indignation, preening self-pity, colloquial rudeness, and, of course, full TV makeup—and in the days after the nomination of Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, the aggressors have been as relentless, resourceful, and unopposed as serpents of the deep.
Where are the Republicans of Congress to challenge these two giddy character assassins as unacceptable cranks, immediately and loudly?
In the first hours, Rush Limbaugh deliberately smeared Sotomayor with the word “racist.” The presenting issue was the now-often-referenced 2001 Sotomayor speech at Berkeley, in which the judge committed the villainous, shocking offense of speaking incautiously and unwisely in public of gender and race. Limbaugh loaded the word “racist” like a dum-dum bullet and fired while trying to cover the gunsmoke with a flimsy equivocation: “Here you have a racist. You might want to soften that. And you might want to say reverse racist.”
Some hours later, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich one-upped Limbaugh by using his Twitter page to fling a misdirecting missile: “White man racist nominee would be forced to withdraw.” And then in a burst: “Latina woman racist should also withdraw.” Just in case his unoriginal ad hominem remained unclear, Gingrich added, with churlish sarcasm, “New racism is better than old racism.”
Where are the Republicans of Congress to challenge these two giddy character assassins as unacceptable cranks, immediately and loudly? Are they afraid of a couple of middle-aged multimillionaires? Are they ashamed of their own impotence? Don’t they see that their silence encourages the rascals? Don’t they have a Twitter page? What do you think Joe Welch meant when he told Joe McCarthy, “Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator?” Does the party’s history have no meaning to you on the Hill?
The smearing got worse when the demagoguery moved, incredibly, to accusing Sotomayor of the same sins as the Ku Klux Klan. First, the bilious ex-Colorado Rep. Tom Tancredo said on CNN that Sotomayor was suspect because she associated with the Latino advocacy group La Raza, which Tancredo abused as a “Latino KKK without the hoods and nooses.”
Then on Friday came the ugliest turn so far, when Limbaugh, in a rambling monologue, as if he would out-mudsling Gingrich, proclaimed that President Obama’s nomination of Sotomayor was the same as a Republican president nominating the genuine Klan pariah David Duke. It was a breathtakingly stupid moment, cluttered with the illogic of a performer who calls himself “America’s piñata” and also claims to belong to something he calls “our side” and “our party.”
“The real question here that needs to be asked,” he began, “and nobody on our side, from a columnist to a TV commentator to anybody in our party, has the guts to ask, is how can a president nominate such a candidate, and how can a party get behind such a candidate? That’s what would be asked if somebody were foolish enough to nominate David Duke, or pick somebody even less offensive.”
At the White House, the mischievous press secretary Robert Gibbs highlighted Limbaugh’s surprising blunder. “It is sort of hard to completely quantify the outrage I think almost anyone would feel at the notion that you’re being compared to somebody who used to be a member of the Ku Klux Klan,” he said.
Gibbs used this rhetorical opening to concede smoothly that Sotomayor’s “word choice in 2001 was poor.” Gibbs guilefully mentioned “any number of conservative and Republican leaders” who “have specifically addressed the comments by people like Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh.”
But Gibbs was overly generous. On the record, just two Republican members of the Senate Judiciary Committee pushed back at Limbaugh and Gingrich. The ageless Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah sniffed impatiently, “I don’t agree with that.” Senator John Cornyn of Texas, when prompted by a clever NPR host, spoke cautiously, “Neither of these men are elected Republican officials. I just don’t think it’s appropriate. I certainly don’t endorse it. I think it’s wrong.”
Cornyn’s voice lacked vigor. Sensing fear, Limbaugh baited Cornyn the next day as a RINO, the acronym for a fraudulent Republican, Republican In Name Only, and the senator was left wounded on the field.
By the weekend, there was only a self-conscious meekness from the Republican leadership. GOP Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky put a choke hold on himself on camera at CNN, when he whispered of the demagogues, “It is certainly not my view,” and then tried cartoon logic that he was not the “speech police.”
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, tried the same strangled response when asked on Meet the Press what he thought of Limbaugh and Gingrich’s description of Sotomayor as a racist. “I would prefer,” he said, “that they not [use that language] but people have a free right to speak and make the analogies that they want.”
Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Fox News Sunday, however, cast Sotomayor as an extraterrestrial: “My question is, does she really understand what America is about?”
Cornyn, appearing on ABC’s This Week, responded again with hesitant whispers to the demagogues, “Everybody take a breath and calm down.”
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas could not find words, when asked on CNN to acknowledge her Texas colleague Cornyn’s hexing by Limbaugh.
If Judd Gregg and the other Republican senators are showing more backbone than their timid colleagues in order to separate the party from the nastiness of Limbaugh, Gingrich, and Tancredo toward a Princeton Tiger and Yale-trained lawyer with overwhelming public approval to go on the Supreme Court, it is not on YouTube yet. If this is not collective and premeditated cowardice from the party that wrote and passed the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, then the only other possible explanation is that the 216 Republicans still in Congress are hiding under the covers, turning blue from not breathing.
John Batchelor is radio host of the John Batchelor Show in New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.