Reflexive reactionaries

REFLEXIVE REACTIONARIES…. There’s been a lot of talk this week about President Obama helping the Democratic Party solidify ties with Hispanic voters by nominating Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court. But that’s an incomplete look at the bigger picture — it’s far more likely the right-wing reaction to the nomination will have a more sweeping effect than the nomination itself.

The immediate responses to the nomination have included ugly talk about affirmative action, bizarre references to Puerto Rican food, criticism of the way in which Sotomayor’s family pronounces their own name, baseless accusations of “racism,” and at least one U.S. senator arguing publicly that Sotomayor’s ability “to rule fairly without undue influence from her own personal race, gender, or political preferences” is in doubt.

But leave it to former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.), whose record on race is notorious for a reason, to go the extra mile. On CNN yesterday, Tancredo attacked Sotomayor over her association with the National Council of La Raza.

“If you belong to an organization called La Raza, in this case, which is, from my point of view anyway, nothing more than a Latino — it’s a counterpart — a Latino KKK without the hoods or the nooses. If you belong to something like that in a way that’s going to convince me and a lot of other people that it’s got nothing to do with race. Even though the logo of La Raza is ‘All for the race. Nothing for the rest.’ What does that tell you?”

Actually, it tells me quite a bit, though it says very little about La Raza or Sotomayor.

I’m hesitant to dignify Tancredo’s nonsense, but for those who aren’t familiar with La Raza, it’s more or less the equivalent of the NAACP or B’nai Brith. It’s an entirely mainstream organization, which has strong ties to both major political parties (John McCain, for example, has twice addressed the group’s annual convention). The “nothing for the rest” line is something Tancredo simply made up.

But the larger political truth is that the right is well aware of the dynamics here. Conservatives know that bigoted attacks against Sotomayor will only weaken the right’s credibility, make confirmation more likely, and make Republican outreach to the Hispanic community that much more difficult. It’s like we’re watching a test play out in real time — can the right criticize a Democratic president’s Supreme Court nominee on the merits, and steer clear of racism?

Just three days into the process, it’s a test too many on the right are failing. Badly.

I suspect some Republican leaders will distance themselves from Tancredo’s madness today, which would be wise. But it obviously throws the GOP off message — instead of going on the offensive, party leaders will have to spend time keeping one of the their own at arm’s length.