Republicans, race and Alberto Gonzales

Published January 31, 2005 10:13PM (EST)

They're not complaining about a "high-tech lynching" just yet, but the Republicans are making it clear that they're willing to play the race card when the Senate takes up the nomination of Alberto Gonzales Tuesday.

While Condoleezza Rice slid through the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with only two "no" votes from Democrats, the Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee have put up a united front against Gonzales' nomination as attorney general. The primary issue, of course, is Gonazales' role in drafting and approving memoranda that seemed to authorize torture and dismiss the protections of the Geneva Conventions. But that's not how the Republicans will play it. Just as Senate Republicans portrayed Democrats' opposition to anti-abortion judges as anti-Catholic discrimination, they'll now dismiss opposition to Gonzales as some kind of attack on Hispanics. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Republicans in the Senate think Democrats are "tone deaf" on how opposition to Gonzales might play with Hispanic voters; an aide to Republican Sen. John Cornyn says that opposition to Gonzales is the Democrats' "exit strategy" for the mid-term elections in 2006.

The Democrats don't have the votes to stop the Gonzales nomination even if they unite against him -- and it's not at all clear that they'll do that. One school of thought -- advanced by more than a few newspaper editorials -- says that Senate Democrats have got to stand up against Gonzales in order to make a strong statement against torture and to signal that they'll be united when it comes time to consider George W. Bush's nominees for the Supreme Court. Others take exactly the opposite view -- that Democrats should hold their fire now, in a case they can't win, so that they're not branded as knee-jerk obstructionists when Supreme Court nominees come before them.

The ACLU's Tim Edgar knows where he stands. "It's a decision for the Democrats in the Senate to make, but I don't think they get anything out of being cooperative," Edgar told us the other day. "I've never seen the Democratic Party get anything by being nice to people they shouldn't be nice to."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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