Give 'Em An Inch

by digby

One of the things that used to drive me nuts about Bill Clinton was his propensity to concede points he didn't need to concede, thus moving the ball down the field for the other side. Over and over again, his White House succumbed to overwrought harassment by the worst elements of the Right Wing Noise machine by making incremental "admissions" out of a misplaced belief that doing so would cool the shrill shrieking craziness. (I'm pretty sure they figured they would gain allies among the allegedly saner establishment Republicans, which was also foolish because they play their own role in the loony pageant.)

It never works very well. The political press inevitably begins to look differently at the debate once the president validates the complaint in any way and it takes on a salience it would never have had if the White House simply held and let the other side fulminate and froth like the kooks they are. Unfortunately, Obama made a move in that direction today, and the press is featuring it in a way that should make everyone a little bit queasy:

The White House says Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor acknowledges she made a poor word choice in a 2001 speech in which she said that a Latina judge would often reach a better conclusion than a white male judge who hasn't lived the same life.

That's according to presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs. He says he has not talked directly to Sotomayor about it but has spoken to people who have.

Shuster led off Hardball with this:

Shuster: President Obama addressed a controversial choice of words by his nominee for the Supreme Court Sonia Sotomayor. In a 2001 speech, Sotomayor said a wise latina woman with her experiences would often reach a better conclusion than a white male. The president spoke about that remark a short time ago with NBC's Brian Williams:

Obama: I'm sure she would have restated it, but if you look in the entire sweep of the essay that she wrote, what' clear is that she was simply saying that her life experiences will give her information about the struggles and hardships that people are going throughthbat will make her a good judge.

Shuster: Still, this is a concession by the white house. We will talk about with MSNBC political analyst Howard Fineman and MSNBC White House correspondent Chuck Todd.


Shuster: We begin with a dramatic White House concession on the Supreme Court nomination of Sonia Sotomayor confirmation battles, lets go to political analyst Howard Fineman and NBC news correspondent Chuck Todd. Chuck, let's start with youi. It may too much to say it's a dramatic concession, but the fact that they are walking this back even slightly that is fairly dramatic news. Explain what's going on at the White House.

Todd: It is because the last two days, you had supporters of Sotomayor and the White House themselves, today Robert Gibbs quoting Samual Alito during his confirmation hearing talking about how his own life experiences can serve to influence his decisions in some of the cases that come before him. So there were a lot of attempts of Sotomayor's supporters to do that, and I've even seen some quotes of Clarence Thomas trying to use the empathy thing.

But I think the White House realized that what she said, that a Latina woman would be better than a white male, that by itself, no matter how you slice it, it just came across poorly, so clearly there was a decision made to do some damage control. We saw it a little bit today with Robert Gibbs at the press briefing and then the president just now with Brian Williams.

Look, my guess is the next thing you'll see is Sotomayor herself telling this privately to Senators and this probably means at the confirmation hearing itself, she'll say the same thing, "that isn't what I meant" and she'll put it back to having her own life experiences and this and that. But they realize it was taking on a life of its own no matter how poorly it was being attacked by some on the right. I think the choice of words, obviously, created a toxic situation for the Republican Party, it still, they realized was something that wasn't playing very well.

It was toxic for the Republican Party to have wingnuts call her a racist all day long but the White House thought it wasn't playing very well so they had to do damage control. For the Republicans? Huh?

Here's Fineman telling us all what's really going on:

Shuster: Howard, this is a cave of some sorts to the Republicans, even if you hate the language they're using, the Obama White House is now caving the point to a certain extent.

Fineman: Yeah and it's for the reason that Chuck said. It's because she wasn't just saying in that quote, "I can add something to the court. I can add something to justice because of my background." She was saying, "I am better than. Because I am a Latina with my experiences, I am better than a white man. I will make better judgments and decisions." That became indefensible.

And it's true that a lot of the Republican attacks were crude. But the conventional wisdom around here and including right here with me too,until last night, was that these attacks were having no effect, the administration was doing a pretty good job defending them. Well, they realized that they weren't and they were going to have to walk back this quote. And it is a victory for the conservatives.

Fineman says that the question going forward will be "is this somehow a window into her judicial soul?" Oh God...

Look, this is a very typical Noise Machine tactic. The bad boys talk trash and the "statesmen" reject the "tone" while "raising questions." But ultimately, more in sorrow than in anger, they simply have to conclude that the president made a mistake in nominating this controversial person with this record of racism. After all, even he admitted that the appointee (or statment/policy) was wrong.

Clinton made a habit of this sort of thing when he had a Democratic majority too, so the fact that he also did it because there was a Republican congress never held water as far as I was concerned. This reflexive desire to quiet one of these trumped up controversies was actually an attempt to control the Villagers, which never worked, but they never stopped doing it. I don't get why this White House would follow that lesson, but it's a bad sign. If you give any ground with these people on things like this, it only emboldens them.

As Shuster said:

The one thing about it is, there's blood in the water whether the Democrats want to acknowledge that or not.

That's mainly because they threw themselves into the shark's maw for no good reason. They had the better of the argument -- Republicans were acting like crazed, freaks, alienating Hispanics by the thousands and making women hate them even more, and the whole country was aghast. Why they gave them validation on this, I don't really understand.

I wouldn't expect this to affect her nomination --- all they were ever going to get was a handful of Republican votes at the most anyway. But this controversy will make it necessary for Sotomayor to bow and scrape before Jeff Sessions and Orrin Hatch. The wingnuts have been hoping for a chance for some payback for Thomas and maybe they'll get a pound of female flesh this time.

Update: Scarecrow shows more Democrats fanning out to apologize for Sotomayor's comments. That'll work out just great.

*transcripts by me ---- d