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Friday, May 29, 2009

How Republicans Can Turn Sotomayor's Identity Politics to Their Favor

Last night's event between James Carville and Karl Rove, crystallized for me the manner in which each side will frame the debate over Judge Sotomayor. Karl Rove said he was troubled by this comment.

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.

Rove used the term "troubled" over and over. That's the correct term because it isn't inflammatory and yet it stresses the seriousness of the comment. Rove then linked this comment to her decision in Ricci.

Carville said it was "cool that the first black president is nominating the first Hispanic judge" and that her life story is inspiring and she's well qualified.

So, it's clear that Republicans will want to paint Sotomayor as seeing the world far too often in racial terms and using that vision to make policy while Democrats will play identity politics. So, in reality, both sides are essentially trying to land in the same place and so it comes down to marketing.

The Republicans have two things to market more than anything. First, it is these comments themselves. Every Republican that I have seen has done the exact same thing. They flip the comments around to a white person and ask rhetorically what would happen. This is a powerful argument. The Republicans have a serious advantage here. First, there's no one that is defending this statement. The White House claims it was out of context but no one is defending it on its merits. Second, traditionally, the nominee isn't supposed to go in front of the media until after the hearings are done. As such, Sotomayor is in no position to define or correct the statement. That means that Republicans have at least two months to hammer at this statement with no response. Define Sotomayor with this statement and you define her as a judge that sees her role in racial terms.

The second weapon is even more powerful. That weapon is Frank Ricci. He's the white firefighter that was denied a promotion based on a ruling that Sotomayor made. Frank Ricci has a poignant life story of his own. Here's how Charles Krauthammer described it.

Ricci is a New Haven firefighter stationed seven blocks from where Sotomayor went to law school (Yale). Raised in blue-collar Wallingford, Conn., Ricci struggled as a C and D student in public schools ill-prepared to address his serious learning disabilities. Nonetheless he persevered, becoming a juniorfirefighter and Connecticut's youngest certified EMT.

After studying fire science at a community college, he became a New Haven "truckie," the guy who puts up ladders and breaks holes in burning buildings. When his department announced exams for promotions, he spent $1,000 on books, quit his second job so he could study eight to 13 hours a day, and, because of his dyslexia, hired someone to read him the material.He placed sixth on the lieutenant's exam, which qualified him for promotion. Except that the exams were thrown out by the city, and all promotions denied, because no blacks had scored high enough to be promoted.

Now, remember, President Obama voted against both Roberts and Alito because he believed they favored the big guy over the little guy. Now, in this case, it is Frank Ricci that is the little guy. It is the city of New Haven that is the big guy, and yet, Sotomayor dismissed the case without even writing an opinion against Ricci. That Ricci is dislexic mattered not. That he quit his second job to study for this test mattered not. That he hired someone to help him read through the problems mattered not. That he did well enough on this test to warrant a promotion also mattered not.

This case is very simple. The city of New Haven offered an exam to promote several of its firefighters to lieutenant. Frank Ricci saw an opportunity to advance his career. He sacrificed a second income, overcame a disability and ultimately he did well enough to get a promotion. Unfortunately for Ricci, the overall results of the test didn't fit the view of a politically correct society. That none of this is his fault matters not. In the world of Sonia Sotomayor political correctness and racial politics are more important than a sympathetic person that frankly deserves to win.

This ruling paints the picture of someone that doesn't so much see the world as the little guy versus the big buy, but rather as Blacks versus Hispanics versus Whites. By this ruling, she doesn't so much have empathy for the little guy but for the minority and her other comment lends credence to this narrative. The Republicans have an opportunity to paint Sotomayor as someone that sees the world in racial terms and will judge that way. In fact, Ricci himself should be a witness during her hearings. Furthermore, Democrats defining her as Latino only reinforces that position.

Frankly, to be successful, the Republicans need to take Rove's playbook. Unlike Newt and Rush, he never called her racist. Instead, he said he was troubled. For the next two months, the Republicans need to be a broken record. They need to bring up the remarks. They need to flip the remarks around, and then they need to announce they are troubled by them. Then, they need to recount the story of Frank Ricci. Ricci is a firefighter who overcame dislexia. He studied day and night, quit his second job, and even hired someone to read the material to him. Then, he did well enough on the test to be promoted only to be denied by Judge Sotomayor who sees political correctness as more important than fairness and achievement.

Here again, the Democrats strategy on this plays into the Republicans hands. Let the Democrats be the broken record of Sotomayor being the first Hispanic judge. Yes, she's the first Hispanic judge who also believes she should govern as a HISPANIC judge. To her, justice isn't blind but racial. That's the narrative built by her comments and this ruling, and it's the narrative reinforced by the Democrats' identity politics in this matter. This offers the Republicans an opportunity to expose it for what it is.


Anonymous said...

The comment I would also play over and over is the "Appellate Court judges make policy." This ties into the gay marriage debate where the voters consistently reject it, yet activist judges (almost) consistently overrule them.

Anonymous said...

Rove may not have said that she's racist, but he did question her intelligence. I'm not saying they're the same thing, but I'm sure someone is going to try and attribute a racial undertone to questioning the intelligence of a Hispanic woman who graduated near the top of her class from two Ivy League schools.

The real question on my mind is will the media go back to talking about Pelosi when this is over with.

mike volpe said...

No, he didn't. He never questioned her intelligence. What are you talking about? You're trying to grasp at straws to make it racist.

He questioned her judicial philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Rove: "She is competent and will be confirmed....She has an interesting and compelling life story..."

Charlie: "She is very smart."

Rove "Not necessarily."

Charlie: "What do you mean? She went to Princeton where she graduating with honors and then went on to Yale Law School...."

Rove: "I know lots of stupid people who went to ivy league schools." The crowd applauds.

Quotes from a Carville/Rove debate in NYC on May 26.

"I’m not really certain how intellectually strong she would be, she has not been very strong on the second circuit"

Quote from Rove on Fox News May 26.

mike volpe said...

I wasn't at the event in NY. I was at the one in Chicago and he didn't say that. I wouldn't question her intelligence. I would raise the statement and use the term "troubling" or something similar. There's no need to question her intelligence.