Monday, June 08, 2009


MSNBC hasn't posted the clip, but I just watched The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson tell Rachel Maddow that he was surprised at Newt Gingrich's race-baiting of Sonia Sotomayor, because the 1990s-vintage Newt, according to Robinson "trod much more carefully" on racial issues.

(UPDATE: Robinson's exact words, now posted: "I frankly was surprised at his outburst at Sotomayor. I wouldn't have associated that particular sentiment -- 'She's a racist! Racist Latina!' -- with the Newt Gingrich of 1994, who trod much more carefully, I think, through racial and ethnic issues.")

I think Robinson's memory is failing him a bit -- and I think what he's suffering from is what a lot of the Beltway suffers from, which is part of the reason Gingrich is welcomed back so warmly on any news program he chooses (Dick Cheney, too, for that matter). i'm not saying Gingrich was a sheet-wearing racist, but he took similar shots in his heyday -- like, for instance the 1995 speech to a group of black journalists in which

he said the failure of poor blacks to achieve was partly the result of their "habits," described blacks as having little entrepreneurial tradition and said the civil-rights movement had become more focused on filing grievances than on promoting economic opportunity.

... Gingrich said the party is interested in finding ways to help people "who are financially and culturally deprived" but are opposed to what he called "genetically based patterns or grievance-based patterns" of assistance.

...Gingrich said the objectives of the civil-rights movement had been mistaken because it was dominated by lawyers, ministers, political activists and others "who thought there was some way to get fairness of outcome as opposed to equality of opportunity."

He acknowledged that it was more "difficult to acquire wealth as a black in America" but added that more than skin color is at play. "The truth is that preachers and lawyers have been more dominant in the black culture in the last 40 years than have business people," said Gingrich. "The habits of the church and the habits of the lawsuit have been more powerful than the habits of acquisition and the habits of job creation." ...

Gingrich backed Proposition 209, the California anti-affirmative action initiative that passed in 1996. To some extent this was cynical -- news reports quoted him as saying that this was a good way to force Democrats to spend money they'd otherwise spend on election contests. But he described affirmative action as "legalized discrimination." Subsequently, he attacked Bill Clinton for not including Prop 209's principal sponsor, Ward Connerly, on a civil rights panel, and he accused Bill Lann Lee, Clinton's nominee for the top federal civil rights post, of "attempting to force through racial and gender preferences in the LAPD," which he said would have been a "backdoor thwarting of the will of the people of California with regard to Proposition 209."

Gingrich was never David Duke. But he did play politics more or less the same way then. Let's not let our memories get fuzzy around the edges.

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