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. phoenix86

    Yes, it seems like Newt and Rush got into a lot of trouble for acting like democrats.

    June 3, 2009 02:10 pm at 2:10 pm |
  2. frank corbin

    Thanks Gloria for your thoughtful perspective. Note to Newt: just shut up.

    June 3, 2009 02:11 pm at 2:11 pm |
  3. The Unshrub

    So it's okay for Newt to backtrack his comments, but not Judge Sotomayor, or maybe a little common sense it starting to sink into the republicans.

    June 3, 2009 02:13 pm at 2:13 pm |
  4. LacrosseMom

    Four times? Is that a legal activist? A reverse racist? A racist? Or even an extremist? Hardly.
    Right you are Gloria! Thank you for your intelligent commentary! The Republicans do not realize the damage they are doing by calling Judge Sotomayor a racist! When you listen to the comments Judge Alito made about his ethnicity during his hearings, one has to wonder why the Republicans are so upset!

    The fact is that there is racism, that women are still less-than-men, that minorities are discriminated against! And when our laws attempt to correct the wrongs of the past, the majority shouts ..... foul!

    June 3, 2009 02:15 pm at 2:15 pm |
  5. JA/TN

    the so called learned carry on as every day people

    June 3, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  6. Candy West Virginia

    They never even gave this brilliant woman a chance, the republicans showed their true colors by lambasting her as a racists. Pot, meet kettle...

    June 3, 2009 02:16 pm at 2:16 pm |
  7. Grog in Ohio

    As if the term "Southern strategy" didn't ALREADY make the GOP looked "ugly"???? Talk about living in their own world...

    June 3, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  8. Dan

    Once the Bullet leaves the Weapon, it is very hard to get it back.

    Once the Words leave the Mouth, it is very hard to take it back. Moreover the first words always reflect the true intention of the person. Later words amount to an afterthought.

    Damage is already done. (Damage to Republican Party's reputation)

    June 3, 2009 02:17 pm at 2:17 pm |
  9. shucks

    He did so only because of the outcry from republicans who have some common sense and aren't trying to totally divide the country. Also because of all the racist rhetoric that is spewed from the likes of Rush Limbaugh every day. Gingrich is an old republican fool that assumes that Americans are dumber than dirt. He is only hurting the republican party more and more every time he opens his big mouth.

    June 3, 2009 02:19 pm at 2:19 pm |
  10. Marc

    Ugh!! Why can't these guys just keep their mouths shut!?

    June 3, 2009 02:20 pm at 2:20 pm |
  11. felicia

    Because he realized he was a big, fat hypocrite

    June 3, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  12. mike in ND

    What a concept, let's look at the facts and look at her actual record. Why didn't they think of that before? Oh yeah, it was Newt and Rush. I am glad I am not a Republican!

    June 3, 2009 02:21 pm at 2:21 pm |
  13. John H.

    Good article, Gloria. Newt finally showing more intelligence than the amphibian for which he is named.

    June 3, 2009 02:22 pm at 2:22 pm |
  14. m cella

    Gingrich and
    Linbaugh have nothing else to resort to but slander and name calling. They are an embarassment to their own party and the best defense we have against right-wing conservatives. Keep up the good work guys and maybe you can damage the GOP past the point of any return.

    June 3, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  15. Gary Jaussaud

    Gary's comment is:

    Mr. Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh have done more
    to tear down the Republican party than any other factor. I call them the
    "Three Stooges" because any time they see a way to spread hate and
    mis-information and negitive press they do so, long before they have
    all the facts, so Mr. Gingrich's remarks are just a part of the way they
    do business, no facts just words that hurt others and further their position.

    I think Newt Gingrich needs to get a life away from the news and information business, and the Republican party needs to tell all these
    guys to just "Shut Up" and come up with good ideas to re-build the
    Repbublican party, not tear it down further.

    June 3, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  16. dreamer

    Was wondering if they were going to get enough of the meaness of Rush and Newts comments,The two of them seem to forget we are all part of the human race and also live on the same planet.Peace is alot better then hate and war.Though i doubt those two will learn.

    June 3, 2009 02:24 pm at 2:24 pm |
  17. Thebe

    What's with the phrasing "they look ugly"? They ARE ugly–literally and spiritually.

    June 3, 2009 02:27 pm at 2:27 pm |
  18. Sniffit

    "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? "

    Because that takes too much time, thought and education. Besides, the media will print whatever they say and give it equal shrift no matter how insane, ridiculous and meritless the statements are because all the media is concerned with is hyping a controversy to secure viewers and thereby justify advertising prices. It doesn't secure viewers and justify advertising prices to either (a) ignore total crap like this or (b) run a story that says quite clearly "Side A took a reasonable position while Side B has jumped off the deep and and acted like an angry macaque flinging feces." Personally, as much as I agree with your article Mr. Borger, I think a little introspection and soul searching on the part of the media might lead you guys to the conclusion that you bear a large part of the responsibility for encouraging behavior like Newt's and the GOP's in general. Recognize that the damage to society is more important than the network's bottom line for once.

    June 3, 2009 02:28 pm at 2:28 pm |
  19. Democrat against racism

    I know many Democrats wont agree, but I don't change my beliefs just because the person in question is of a minority. Anyone that gives preferential treatment based on someone's race is a racist in my book.

    June 3, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  20. Steve (the real one)

    Ah Phooey! Newt just took a page out the liberal playbook, with one exception, he apologized! Remember when Steele won the leadership of the RNC? It was Uncle Tom this and Token that! It was Obama wannabe and all of that junk! Why is it permissable when liberals do it but hateful speech when conservatives do it and vise versa??? It is the SAME THING!! Personally , it is disgraceful when anybody does it! The hypocracy on both sides has caused both sides to lose credibility. Surely a "progressive" somewhere can agree!!!

    June 3, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  21. Kimberly

    who cares,this man and people like mit romney need to get jobs!! I am sick to death of the media paying attention to these completely irrelivant morons!!! They will neither one EVER be president, and the way they bash him for even breathing is plane stupid!!! Romey is a coward, his sons are cowards, his granfather is a polyigamist who married a 17 year old when he was in his 40's and newt is a bitter old white racist!

    June 3, 2009 02:29 pm at 2:29 pm |
  22. Jefe

    Newt probably figured that by calling someone a racist as if it were a bad thing, he would be alienating that faction of the Republican party which "people" such as Limbaugh, Hannity, and himself ratain as their raving fans.

    No actual Conservative would ever take Limbaugh-Hannity-Gingrich seriously. We must remember, "Conservative" doesn't mean throwing away every single principle the Republican Party has ever stood for, while being *for* religious zealotry in government.

    June 3, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  23. Brook E. Mantia

    "Is calling her names our best talking point?" asks GOP pollster Tony Fabrizio.

    Um, yes, actually, it is. Otherwise, we'd be talking about something else right now.

    June 3, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  24. Once You Vote Black: Mute Newt

    GOP, Soto... did not rule that the white racist firfighters should not get their promotion, she ruled that the city has the right to toss a test. To do otherwise would have been to legislate from the bench, and we know how you feel about that.

    June 3, 2009 02:30 pm at 2:30 pm |
  25. David

    Why were the facts about her record stuffed in at the end? This type of info could and should be an article in itself.

    June 3, 2009 02:33 pm at 2:33 pm |
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