June 3rd, 2009
01:14 PM ET
13 years ago

Borger: Why Gingrich withdrew 'racist' label

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/06/art.newt.jpg caption="Gingrich tweeted last week that Sotomayor is a 'latina woman racist.'"]

WASHINGTON (CNN) - Well, well.

After initially waiting a few nanoseconds to call Supreme Court nominee Judge Sonia Sotomayor a racist - not to mention advising that she just ought to withdraw from consideration - Newt Gingrich has had a sudden change of heart. Or at least vocabulary.

In the conservative magazine Human Events, he writes on Wednesday: "My initial reaction was strong and direct - perhaps too strong and too direct.

... Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor's fitness to serve on the nation's highest court have been critical of my word choice. ... The word 'racist' should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable."

An apology from Newt? And one that contains a string of thoughts too long to Twitter? How can that be?

It seems as if poor Gingrich found himself the target of his own Republican Party. Some of the more serious folks in the Senate had been trying to figure out what kind of a jurist Sotomayor might be, when Newt and Rush Limbaugh decided to morph into Thelma and Louise.

Their favorite topic? Sotomayor's now infamous statement that, "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." Foolish, yes. Self-serving, sure.

But Gingrich and Co. just couldn't leave it at that. Personal name-calling is just so much more fun - and attention-getting. So she became a racist (even a reverse racist), in their words.

Not surprisingly, Republican senators trying to figure out a way to mount real questions about her judicial record were appalled. One Senate Republican told me that the GOP caucus grew increasingly furious at Gingrich's grandstanding.

"People are really angry," the senator says. "Newt and Rush have simply made it far more difficult for Republicans to raise the legitimate issues. They're so quick to throw the word racist around, they look ugly, and make us look the same way."

And ugly is not a good place to be when you've just resoundingly lost an election - with less than one-third of the Hispanic vote. If it stays at that level, Republicans will have a hard time winning elections in key red states with growing Hispanic populations.

"Is calling her names our best talking point?" asks GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio. "It's a symptom of being leaderless; it's every man for himself these days." The point, he says, is not to question whether Sotomayor is qualified to sit on the court. After all, after 17 years on the bench, there's no doubt she has the right resume. The right question to ask, Fabrizio rightly argues, is this: How is she going to fill that seat?

And then there's this: Instead of throwing around terms like "judicial activist," why not actually examine her record and look for things that might have some real meaning for the American people?

In these economic times, the old culture wars arguments against judges as a group of evil-doers ready to 'legislate from the bench' holds much less sway. "It's got to be about a question of fairness when people are suffering economic anxiety," says Fabrizio, who looks to the New Haven firefighters case as good fodder for discussion. In that case, the city denied promotions to a largely white group of firefighters after a civil service exam in which none of the black employees who took the test would have been promoted.

"These people studied for a test, passed it and didn't get their promotions," Fabrizio says.

And if the high court overturns Sotomayor's ruling - which some say is likely - the decision would only make the case more incendiary. And that's a fair discussion to have.

But it should also be held in the context of the judge's voluminous record. Tom Goldstein of the respected Scotusblog has done our work for us in examining the firefighters case plus 96 other race-related cases Sotomayor ruled on while on the Court of Appeals.

Goldstein's findings hardly show the mark of a jurist who is looking for discrimination above all else. The judge and the panel rejected the claim of discrimination 78 times and found it to be accurate in 10 cases. Nine of those cases were decided unanimously. Overall, he calculates, "Judge Sotomayor rejected discrimination-related claims by a margin of roughly 8 to 1."

All in all, Goldstein writes, in an 11-year career on the Second Circuit, the judge "has participated in roughly 100 panel decisions involving questions of race and has disagreed with her colleagues in those cases ... a total of four times."

Four times? Is that a legal activist? A reverse racist? A racist? Or even an extremist? Hardly.

Note to Newt: Need new adjectives.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Gloria Borger.

Filed under: Newt Gingrich • Sonia Sotomayor • Supreme Court
soundoff (93 Responses)
  1. Claudia in Houson

    Newt should have known better, he's got his own set of issues that will never be resolved. How could Newt have possibly think that calling Sotomayor a racist would gain him favoritism among anybody by creating such an embarrassment for himself. This guy isn't too smart.

    June 3, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  2. Peter E

    I'd hardly qualify that as an apology. It's an evasion tactic he uses to still look 'hardline' and yet not undermine the more vulnerable members of his party. He is nothing but a coward. He is not holding office, so he spends his spare time running for president, calling the media every time he has an opinion about something, just to stay in headlines.

    June 3, 2009 02:35 pm at 2:35 pm |
  3. Expat American

    On the contrary, Newt. Keep talking. The GOP can't be buried and forgotten fast enough....What happened to those great videos of the Palin’s Slack Jaw supporters? Are there any new ones? Thanks to real time global news, the world was laughing at those backwoods redneck idiots…!

    June 3, 2009 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  4. pghezzi mich

    newt and linbauh are cut of the same cloth it they want to help the republicns, they should keep their mouths shut.

    June 3, 2009 02:36 pm at 2:36 pm |
  5. Tim

    He was right, as her comments were spoken from her heart and her comments where racist. There is zero doubt that a white person making the same sort of comment would be run out of town, with no apologies.

    June 3, 2009 02:39 pm at 2:39 pm |
  6. Kristina, Seattle

    Why? Because it wasn't WORKING. Duh. If they were getting any traction with this laughable line of attack, believe me, they wouldn't be softening it.

    June 3, 2009 02:42 pm at 2:42 pm |
  7. John

    Bolger is becoming the mouth piece for republicans just like Candy cowley...
    Watchout for these people on tv
    Anderson cooper
    John King and his wife Dana Bash
    Candy Cowley
    David Gergnen
    Lou dobbs and
    Ed henry.....They are all republicans talking heads!

    June 3, 2009 02:43 pm at 2:43 pm |
  8. obambi

    Borger is not fit to shine Newt's shoes–she would rather be in Cairo bowing with Obama and the state-run media.

    June 3, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  9. Ted

    Well well, the rest of the Republican party actually criticized Newt and his fat friend, Rush? Good! They deserve it for their running their mouths off with the verbal diarrhea of hatred and divisiveness. Newt needs to find a real job such as handing out balloons at WalMart. Rush is an idiot and his employer is an idiot also.

    June 3, 2009 02:44 pm at 2:44 pm |
  10. Honest Abe

    Translation: Now that i've told everyone how I really feel and I see how it damages my party – um... I would like to take it back! In fact I take back anything i've said that has hurt my party. I'm really not sorry though. Is that good enough RNC?

    June 3, 2009 02:45 pm at 2:45 pm |
  11. Phat Elvis

    And with that, Gingrich killed his chances at a presidential nomination.

    Obama clinched his election victory when the polls closed on the west coast, whose states have large hispanic populations. Those same voters will not be very supportive of a party who unjustly characterizes hispanic politcal figures as racist.

    June 3, 2009 02:48 pm at 2:48 pm |
  12. Expat American

    Gingrich withdrew his statement because he lives his life in the public eye. He’s just another typical Republican bully turned cowardly scum when he actually had to back up his statement.

    June 3, 2009 02:50 pm at 2:50 pm |
  13. Jeff

    Get a clue, peeps. This 'apology' is just more posturing.

    Ol' Newt ain't sorry. Since when has he ever apologized for anything in the public eye?

    The so-called 'apology' is only because Newt's been told his mouth is becoming a liability and a distraction to the higher ups in the GOP.

    June 3, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  14. Franky

    "An apology from Newt? And one that contains a string of thoughts too long to Twitter? How can that be?"

    LOL!! Isn't that hilarious? He id what I did, but mines work, LOL!!! Ohh my lord...

    To tell you the truth, it ain't really no big deal, is very early and is not like she is abhor by everybody. Just take it slow, that's all.

    Hey Gloria, have you been seen the Classic Adventures of James and Karl, Live on Broadway yet? LOL!!! I just had to, I just had to...

    June 3, 2009 02:51 pm at 2:51 pm |
  15. RB

    PEWT had NO FACTS to support his claim, he sounded more like the Racist more so than the person he was accusing. Sotomayor record doesn't not support his claim! All the people that JUMP on this bandwagon shows that American people can be easily lead by the MEDIA HYPE? Fact dis spells all LIES...........................................

    June 3, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  16. Chris

    The GOP needs to purge the likes of Newt and Rush from their party if they ever think that party will amount to anything. The writing is on the wall, people are tired of the dog and pony show the so call Republican hardliners like to pull. It is time for clear intelligent leadership that understands its okay to disagree, but lets find the middle ground and move from there. But, oh no these bozos have this it's my way or the highway mentality. The best thing the GOP can do is purge all these idiots from your party!!!

    June 3, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  17. Lynn

    Yet, CNN was instrumental in giving Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh credibility by running their comments 24/7 as if they were fact and once again failing to do their homework in doing some research. They let Republican talking heads and so called journalists like Lou Dobbs wax on with their racism charges unchallenged.

    The criticism continues with the ridiculous blog above about Sotomayor justifiably not being able to remember the people she would be meeting with.

    It isn't just Newt Gingrich that is losing credibility here from a media source which thrives on speculation and joining in on character assassination. CNN also owes the Judge and its listeners an apology.

    When is Lindsay Graham going to walk away from his demand for an apology??

    June 3, 2009 02:52 pm at 2:52 pm |
  18. JT

    Too late Newt, you and Limbaugh have already started this hate campaign. So your apology is very meaningless at this point.

    June 3, 2009 02:56 pm at 2:56 pm |
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