Sotomayor vs Estrada


Karl Rove says conservatives shouldn’t worry about alienating Hispanic voters:

The media has also quickly adopted the story line that Republicans will damage themselves with Hispanics if they oppose Ms. Sotomayor. But what damage did Democrats suffer when they viciously attacked Miguel Estrada’s nomination by President George W. Bush to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, the nation’s second-highest court?

As Jon Chait says, the comparison seems a bit inapt:

And the situations are pretty much identical, except that the GOP has a bad reputation among Hispanics and the Democrats don’t, and the Supreme Court plays an ever-so-slightly larger role in the public imagination than the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.

This is right. Another way of putting the “reputation” point is that Republicans don’t actually need to lose Hispanic support in order to lose ground. The Latino vote share is growing, and the Republican share of the Latino vote is already terrible. It’s hard to see how opposing Sotomayor is going to help with that.

But what Chait’s left out is the tenor of the criticisms made of Estrada. The argument against Estrada, as I recall it, was that he’s very conservative. The argument about Sonia Sotomayor consists of the idea that we should discount her career and her degrees because those are just the results of the kind of “preferential treatment” that poor Puerto Rican girls from the projects get. We’ve also heard that she has a troubling fondness for Puerto Rican food. That it’s unreasonable that she pronounces her name as if it’s a Spanish word. We’ve heard that she’s a soft-hearted woman who wants to set aside the law in favor of empathetic victims, and also heard complaints that she’s failed to set aside the law in order to help out empathetic white people. These kind of criticisms are going to drive Hispanics away from the conservative cause not because conservatives are criticizing a Latina, but because they’re criticizing her in terms that imply a generalized skepticism about the qualifications of all American Hispanics, a loathing of Latin culture, and a monomaniacal obsession with defending the interests of white people. And while not all conservatives have gone in for the full Goldfarb/Krikorian madman treatment, no prominent voices on the right seem interested in checking the tide of borderline bigotry from their camp. It’s a reminder that checking prejudice against non-whites isn’t something conservatives are interested in.