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. Dawn in Pa

    Why is this man relevent anymore...

    June 3, 2009 01:15 pm at 1:15 pm |
  2. RepugliKLAN conscience

    Gingrich is a bafoon with terrible judgment who panders to the far right for the campaign he has already begun for the 2012 Repugliklan presidential nomination.

    June 3, 2009 01:18 pm at 1:18 pm |
  3. Faux

    Newt if that is the best you can come up with always running at the mouth go root with the pigs...

    June 3, 2009 01:20 pm at 1:20 pm |
  4. Ren from Baltimore

    Ms Borger calls Newt out for what he really is-a sad, spent opportunist. As for what the country thinks of Rush these days, well, I'll be he'd lust after being called only sad and spent,.

    June 3, 2009 01:22 pm at 1:22 pm |
  5. Ted Tartaglia

    Borger is right on. Newt is a racist himself so he has little room to call anyone else a racist, even if true. Newt realized that he had just shot himself in the foot and is trying to find a way to make the pain go away, hence his retraction. Just another befuddled old fool.

    June 3, 2009 01:24 pm at 1:24 pm |
  6. RH

    All of this is skirting the issue. What really needs to be discussed is the PC lie that it is absolutely impossible for a minority to be a racist. Reverse racism is real and it is gaining ground more and more as these cowed politicians continue to imply that it cannot exist.

    Gingrich was immediately castigated for being a white man using the word, long before anybody had examined Sotomayor's record to see if he may have been right.

    Discrimination cannot be alleviated by discrimination.

    June 3, 2009 01:25 pm at 1:25 pm |
  7. Lisa B in FL

    Looks like ol' Newt really screwed up this time doesn't it? Now, how about those who are not elected officials take a lesson...shut the F-up!

    June 3, 2009 01:26 pm at 1:26 pm |
  8. dominican mama 4 Obama

    For all of the uninformed : "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."

    Read. Then draw your conclusions. A mind is terrible thing to waste.

    June 3, 2009 01:27 pm at 1:27 pm |
  9. Susan

    Saying that Newt and Rush Limbaugh have morphed into Thelma and Louise is an insult to Thelma and Louise, even if they are fictitious characters!!

    But then again, Newt and Rush are fictitious characters themselves – more the cartoon type!

    Glad to see the Repubs are finally showing some maturity by coming down on Newt and Rush for their asinine remarks!

    June 3, 2009 01:28 pm at 1:28 pm |
  10. former republican


    Its people like Newt, Dick, and Rush is why I'm no longer a registered republican! And as always, they are way to extreme and will be the final nails in the republican coffin!

    June 3, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  11. mtv

    No he just realize how foolish he looked and how many people he pissed off with his Big Mouth

    June 3, 2009 01:29 pm at 1:29 pm |
  12. JT

    Typical example of everything that is wrong within the r@cist Republican party.

    June 3, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  13. Ted Tartaglia

    Newt's mother was a wise woman to name him after a lizzard.

    June 3, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  14. Elise

    I'd also like to understand what Rush meant when he said "reverse racist." Is everything that isn't "white" considered "reverse?"

    June 3, 2009 01:30 pm at 1:30 pm |
  15. Fla.

    Good points, Gloria. I guess this instant Twitter is not working out so well for the "new" GOP. Then again, Newt says & does a lot of things he "shouldn't..."

    June 3, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  16. IndepndentAmerican

    The reason Newt withdrew the racist comment is that he knows that the GOP can not win elections without minorities! And for that matter, Muslims, etc.

    Lately all one has heard from the Republicans are lies and name calling, believe me, it will cost them millions of votes in 2010!

    This Latino will never vote for the GOP again!

    June 3, 2009 01:31 pm at 1:31 pm |
  17. CNN = Moveon.org

    Is the CNN political ticker now the new Moveon.org blog? I thought this was a "news" political ticker, not a "we will post ALL of the anti-Republican opinion pieces we can find" ticker. CNN, you show yourself more and more everyday to be in the tank for Obama and how much you have your "heads" up his ass. Why don't you just come out and say you are all dumbocrats and you hope that the U.S. becomes the next Venezuala.

    June 3, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  18. Lori asks the GOP why Saddam is dead but Bin Laden is Alive?!!

    "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." Ha! Ha! That is exactly what I've been saying. But these fools believe that by calling our President a 'fascist' or 'socialist' and Ms. Sotomayor a 'racist' and blogging hateful comments about them using a number of different blog names, that they will put doubt in peoples minds. Nice try, Repugs. Your followers, like your 'policies', are devoid of any any substance, and the majority of Americans see it.

    June 3, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  19. once upon a horse

    why don't people drop the term "reverse racism" or "reverse discrimination" because in order to reverse something you would have to admit that you've done it yourself. Most people DON'T want to accept the fact or confess that they in the past have done such acts UNTIL it stings them. Racist is a hard label to put on anyone and coming from the likes of Rush Limbaugh it's comical. Hopefully Newt looked in the mirror and saw how stupid the comment was. Rush never will.

    June 3, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  20. Edward

    It was ill-logical for Mr. Gingrich to call Ms. Sotomayer a "racist" to begin with. I suspect he knew that. There is no race of non-white people. Ms. Sotomayer, according to the evidence, is not a member of a race...she is a victim of race-ism.

    June 3, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  21. Diana NJ

    Thank you for putting the full quote in there rather than, how it has been said on the cable news shows, by Newt, by Rush, by O'Reily. I have tried to convince my husband that the Republican Party is not full of EVIL people.. Newt and all of them, make it a difficult task.

    June 3, 2009 01:32 pm at 1:32 pm |
  22. I laugh at Limbaugh daily

    The republican party is crumbling each day and so is Limbaugh.I couldnt be happier,but I dont trust democrats much either,most politicos are in the pockets of Wallstreet,not mainstreet.

    June 3, 2009 01:33 pm at 1:33 pm |
  23. Once You Vote Black: Mute Newt

    Wow, she broke him down to the draws. And she should. First he says she is a racist which touches off a storm of others saying that, then he says oops. What if someone took him serious? She might have stepped down. Then we would never have her wisdom. He asked Nancy to step down. What is this with stepping down? It did nto work too well for him. We should Mute Newt.

    June 3, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  24. Kevin B

    Newt and Rush have become an albatross around the neck of the GOP, the elected republican officials need to shut down these mean spirited, shrill, insult hurling hacks once and for all.

    Rush and Newt have become Mr Obama qnd the democrats biggest assets with their mindless name calling.

    They are literally killing the future of the GOP with anyone but the fringe voters

    June 3, 2009 01:35 pm at 1:35 pm |
  25. Lynda/Minnesota

    That the GOP has been leaderless is an understatement and is wholly evident by the lack of discipline shown from the right.

    Examination? The GOP isn't about to examine anything coherently especially in light of all the anxiety the republicans have caused Americans to suffer over these past 8 years. Examining the fruits of the GOP hard line policies might then shed light of past mistakes to those individuals whom they call their base.

    Instead the GOP membership rants and raves against this administration, hoping against all odds that our president will fail. Those still calling themselves republican are doing everything in their power to bring about that failure. There is no one who is qualified to be leader of the GOP. They just keep throwing themselves under the bus.

    June 3, 2009 01:37 pm at 1:37 pm |
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