In my personal experience, nothing makes a conservative madder than observing that the history of conservatism is sullied with racism. You’ll immediately get an earful about Democratic Sen. Robert Byrd and his past with the KKK, as if the fact that many 60s-era southern conservatives had a D next to their name somehow exonerates the ideology.
Some of these do want to break with the movement’s racist past, even if to them that means denying it. But the desire in some I think is sincere — both because more and more conservatives are younger and did not grow up with the same prejudices, and because savvy conservatives understand as America grows increasingly diverse, an all-white movement is a losing movement.
Yet it seems that when it comes to race, conservatives never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Presented to them by President Barack Obama was history in the making: the nation’s first Latina Supreme Court nominee.
She was certain to be confirmed. She was not going to alter the ideological balance of the court. Why not do the simple thing and be part of a history-making moment?
If for no other reason, to show that — despite the wave of racist conspiracy theorizing about President Obama’s birth, despite the continued obsession with deporting immigrants, despite the painful questioning of Sonia Sotomayor during the confirmation hearings — conservatives have put truly racial resentments behind them.
Sure, Sotomayor does not share the conservative judicial philosophy. If I was in their shoes, I would loathe to give someone a lifetime appointment who I disagreed with so strongly.
But powerful symbolic gestures don’t get served up on a silver platter every day either.
And the Republican Party already wasted one: electing an African-American as party chairman, only to see him become a punchline, and see other party members routinely undercut his authority.
Conservatives chose to let the Sotomayor opportunity pass them by. Only 9 of the 40 Republican Senators voted for Sotomayor’s confirmation. The two from Maine are not conservatives. And four others are retiring and don’t face re-election. A pretty sorry record.
What will it take for conservatism to show they’ve learned from their movement’s past failings? I can only predict: much more losing.