Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sotomayor Nomination: Obama's Wedge Politics

Cross-posted from The Huffington Post

President Obama's nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court is stunning on many levels: She's the third woman to serve on the high court, the first of Latino descent and the first to grow up in public housing.

On her own merits, Sotomayor is a deserving nominee. Yet in his choice of Sotomayor, Obama has also made a brilliant tactical move -- one that not only shores up his standing with the Latino community and the women's rights community, but also serves to further divide the beleaguered Republican Party.

In discussions of this nomination, much will be said about the debt Obama owes to the Latino community for his 2008 electoral victory. As Politico's Ben Smith recently wrote:

[McCain] got 31 percent of the Latino vote to the 44 percent that George W. Bush took in 2004, according to exit polls. And it was enough to put much of the West and Southwest out of reach for the Republican Party, to give Florida to the Democrats and to hand Barack Obama the presidency.
The flip side of of that fact is the migration of Latino voters away from the Republican Party, largely due to the party's capitulation to the darkest inclinations of its base with regard to immigration policy.

Republican Senate leaders already have even conservative Latino figures feeling disrespected by throwing their early support to Florida governor Charlie Crist even before the primary, where his opposition is expected to be a popular and youthful Cuban-American, Marco Rubio, who was Florida's youngest House Speaker.

Can Republican senators really afford to oppose Sonia Sotomayor's nomination without further bleeding the votes of Latinos? Probably not. Yet, the hard right wing, which is likely to vilify Sotomayor based on a controversial decision she made in a difficult affirmative action case, will likely demand that GOP leaders oppose Sotomayor outright.

For years, the Democratic Party lay victim to the wedge politics practiced by the Republican Party, and seemed constitutionally incapable of fighting back on those terms. President Obama has no such reticence. Let the battle begin.

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