Race baiting still a Clinton tactic

By John Nowacki
web posted July 3, 2000

I seem to recall President Clinton having called for an end to racial divisiveness at some point in the past six years. If I remember correctly, he has also suggested that he'd like political discourse to be a little more civil. If that could happen, it would be a wonderful thing. But as to whether he was actually in earnest . . . well, I'm feeling a bit skeptical.

Clinton and the members of his party have found race baiting to be a useful tactic in their efforts to cow Republicans into confirming some of his activist judicial nominees. After the one and only defeat of a Clinton judicial nominee in October, the Democrats went all out to paint the vote as being racially motivated.

The result? Some Republicans are even more frightened to oppose a nominee because of his judicial philosophy, when that nominee comes from a certain ethnic background. They got burned, badly, and they don't want to go through that again.

Of course, Clinton and the Democrats know this. Clinton favors judicial activists, and he has deliberately selected activist minority nominees whenever possible. From now on, if Republicans don't confirm even the most controversial nominees, the Democrats will be more than happy to do their part to end racial divisiveness and keep the political process civil. After all, when you find an effective tactic, why move on to something else?

When Senators Phil Gramm and Kay Bailey Hutchison recently announced their opposition to the nomination of Enrique Moreno, Clinton all but called them racists. Their decision was prompted by the opinion of a majority of their 30-member judicial advisory group, which decided that Moreno lacked the necessary experience to be fully engaged and effective on a court one notch below the U.S. Supreme Court. But that didn't make a difference.

President Clinton responded to their announcement by saying that "their claim that he lacks the necessary experience to serve on the Fifth Circuit is unconscionable . . . Their unjustifiable opposition . . . [to] an exceptionally well-qualified Hispanic judicial nominee must not be allowed to stand."

After a reporter asked Clinton whether Moreno was rejected because he is Hispanic, he replied that it was either because of that, or the Senators just don't want to confirm any judges unless they are right-wing ideologues.

Clinton was then asked whether he was charging that Gramm and Hutchison are prejudiced against Hispanics. He answered no, but quickly added "you have to ask them, and people can draw their own conclusions. They may or may not be. But since he's clearly well-qualified, and everybody virtually in the world with an opinion has endorsed him, if it's not that, it's that they want somebody who's more politically malleable."

Surely no one could say that Clinton was being uncivil. After all, he did leave them an out; Gramm and Hutchison could just be waiting for Clinton to nominate the right right-wing ideologue.

When the Senate Judiciary Committee met to vote on four nominations this week, Senator Leahy mentioned three minority nominees whom he wants confirmed (one of them being Moreno). He pointedly emphasized the racial background of one and said: "I hope there's not a pattern." He didn't have to explain when he meant.

Clinton and the Democrats who have been engaged in race baiting obviously have no intention of stopping anytime soon. I can't decide which is worse, recklessly insinuating that race plays a factor in judicial confirmations, or exploiting a nominee's race for political gain and thus making it a factor.

Either way, Senate Republicans should evaluate nominees on their record and attack the race baiting head-on when it happens. But with the election looming closer, Clinton will do his best to damage Republicans in the eyes of minority voters. And there's no telling what he'll say without saying next. For someone who completely redefined several words - including "is" - during 1998, it's no wonder that his definition of "racial healing" also has a different meaning from what anyone could have expected.

John Nowacki is deputy director of the Free Congress Foundation's Center for Law and Democracy.

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