Chris Matthews Hits New Lows of Stupidity on Sotomayor

Posted on July 17, 2009

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Try as I might, I can’t really get mad at Pat Buchanan, the MSNBC staple, comb-over enthusiast, xenophobe and race-provocateur extraordinaire. For one thing, the bar’s already pretty low.  He’s the guy who developed Nixon’s Southern Strategy–that brilliant innovation to capture the racist Democrats alienated by Kennedy era civil rights laws. Then you have the fact that he’s employed at MSNBC to begin with, and it certainly seems that he’s not there for his sexy jowls. You don’t hire Pat Buchanan to muse about the rule of law and the virtues of isolationism–you hire him to be an offensive a-hole, skating the edge of outright bigotry. The thrill comes in seeing how close this racist can come in gilding the lily of offense without actually coming out and calling the Legal Defense Director of the NAACP a racial expletive.  Add to that this is the moment the aging propagandist has been waiting for for years– a chance to re-litigate affirmative action, to cry out for all of those poor white folks who were looked over for promotion for the last three decades because of Barack Obama and Sonia Sotomier [the Buchanan pronunciation. The guy can pronounce Iraqi cities  with glottal stops, but don’t ask him to speak Portoe Rickahn].

Really, I could no more get angry at Buchanan’s melted-candle visage than I could get angry at an ape flinging excrement in a monkey house.

Chris Matthews, that’s another story. He bills himself as a son of immigrants,a feet in the mud and eye on the white working class people’s tele-journalist. His obviously assumed obtuseness on the Sotomayor issue cannot be forgiven.

Look, its not that hard, at least for someone who once worked in a presidential administration. As Justice Ginsburg noted in her widely-available dissent, Title VII is not just about disparate treatment, its also about disparate impact by employers. There’s a good reason why these “twin pillars”, as Ginsberg called them, were developed through thirty years of precedent and law. Its not enough to tell an employer that there are repercussions to fail to hire so-called minorities; the employer might find other ways to prevent minorities from entering the work place. For example, in the precedent Ginsberg mentions–Griggs–the employer required a pre-requisite high school diploma for certain positions. But this was the newly integrated South, and African Americans had been denied equal access to education for generations. In Griggs, studies showed that having a high school diploma did not have any impact on performing the job. Though the employer may not have intended to exclude minorities, it did–and most importantly it did so with a test that had no bearing on the job itself. This is exactly the situation that the disparate impact provision of Title VII is meant to prevent.

Moreover, armed with this information–and it took me twenty minutes to read Ginsberg’s dissent–it became quite easy to see what is really at issue in the Ricci case. The city knew that it would have trouble defending its choice for a test weighted heavily for mulitple choice for a position that requires leadership and applied skills. Because the test did not measure the skills necessary for management positions in the New Haven Fire Department, it could not be defended for having a disparate impact, and thus New Haven was right to suspect that it would be vulnerable to law suit under Title VII. Four out of nine justices took this position. At minimum, Matthews should be coming into any conversation about Sotomayor armed with an understanding of this perspective.

Giving him the benefit of the doubt, that his multi-million dollar position does not afford him the time to become familiar with the issues he is paid to moderate, he had ample schooling on the issue from John Payton, his guest and the President of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Still Matthews ignorance seems remarkably attuned to the positi0n that Buchanan is arguing.

Obviously, Payton answers Matthews’ question, and even explains the concept again. Buchanan, no fool, is feigning ignorance to confuse the issue. But Matthews, the supposed moderator, incredibly, asks nearly the same exact question again a few minutes later–the same question Buchanan continues to relentlessly pursues beyond all reason until the end of the segment.

Is Mathews really this dense? Or, worse, is he simply manipulating the situation, creating a controversy by deliberate mischaracterization for ratings? I suspect its more of the former than the latter, but I can’t tell you which is worse.

One last annoying thing about this is that after weeks of accusations that Sotomayor over-empathises with people of color, Pat Buchanan, Chris Matthews and Senate Republicans are asking us to empathise with Ricci. If Sotomayor wasn’t allowed to empathise with the city of New Haven or the hundreds of people of color that had appeared before her bench, or even Ricci himself, why the hell should the spectacle of Ricci dragging his index finger across his written complaint be of any interest to anyone in her confirmation hearing? And indeed, if as he says, Ricci gave up everything because he could only pass the exam by studying over-time, by what standards would that make him a good fire department supervisor?

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