SAN DIEGO - Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is angry at Democrats for speeding up the start of Sonia Sotomayor's confirmation hearings - to July 13.
"They want the shortest confirmation timeline in recent memory for someone with the longest record in recent memory," McConnell said. "This violates basic standards of fairness, and it prevents senators from carrying out one of their most solemn duties, a thorough review of the president's nominee to a lifetime position on the highest court in the land."
What gall for anyone associated with the Republican Party, much less one of its leaders, to talk about "fairness" and "solemn duties," given how conservatives have reacted to the Sotomayor nomination.
If McConnell finds himself short on time, it's because too many members of his party - on talk radio, in the right-wing blogosphere and in the political chattering classes - wasted too much of it in recent weeks talking about side issues that had nothing to do with Sotomayor's qualifications. And while all this was going on, McConnell said he had "better things to do than be the speech police."
I can see why Republicans weren't eager to talk about the nominee's credentials - graduating summa cum laude from Princeton, editor of the Yale Law Journal, a former prosecutor, nearly 17 years on the federal bench - because her achievements are all first-rate.
Instead, Sotomayor's critics used speech fragments and YouTube footage to label her a judicial activist, a radical liberal and a racist. When some Republicans - including Sen. John Cornyn of Texas and former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales - winced at that final jab, the critics tried to tone it down by switching to "racialist." Whatever that means.
The judge's detractors set out to try to make her look bad - and wound up making themselves look much worse. Even her qualifications came in for character assault. During one exchange, radio talk-show host Bill Bennett and the Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes suggested that Sotomayor might never have gotten into Princeton if not for affirmative action.
As someone who has written about diversity issues for 20 years, I was stunned by the reaction. Wouldn't you assume that Bennett, Barnes and other critics - given that they have accomplished much in their own lives - would be more secure than to jump to the conclusion that there is a new world order coming and they're going to be out in the cold?
The ruckus over Sotomayor isn't about judicial activism, empathy or identity politics. It's about how some white males got their noses out of joint because Sotomayor said in a 2001 speech that she "would hope that a wise Latina woman with the richness of her experiences would, more often than not, reach a better conclusion than a white male who hasn't lived that life." Despite the insistence by the White House that Sotomayor misspoke, it was soon learned that she made similar remarks in a series of other speeches from 1994 to 2004. So she misspeaks habitually.
The media helped stir the pot by doing what it does best: promoting conflict. Take note of the recent headline on a CNN story about Sotomayor: "'Wise Latina' vs. White Males."
We can expect the "wise Latina" comment to pop up a lot during Sotomayor's confirmation hearings. And that's silly. Here you have a nominee for the Supreme Court whose paper trail is a six-lane highway. She probably also has views on some of the most controversial issues of the day - from abortion to illegal immigration. Yet what many members of the Senate Judiciary Committee - and certainly many Republicans - are likely to obsess over are Sotomayor's provocative but ultimately harmless statements about the insight, judgment, and, yes, empathy, she would hope to see from fellow Latina judges.
Other conservatives are itching for a fight over affirmative action, and they plan to make their stand during the Sotomayor confirmation hearings.
I do hope they get around to mentioning that affirmative action helps white males, too, by giving them a built-in excuse when they fall short and don't get everything they desire.
It's sad, really. There was a time when the Republican Party would challenge those who played the victim, made excuses for their shortcomings, and thought the world was out to get them. These days, that's the team motto.
Ruben Navarrette Jr. is an editorial writer and columnist at The San Diego Union-Tribune. Reach him at email@example.com. ©2009 The San Diego Union Tribune.