In retrospect, Garland’s right response may have been: If the shoe fits, senator.
Just days later Kennedy, echoing the disgraced ex-president’s call for members of the Squad to “go back" to the countries from which they are from (even though they are all American citizens), attacked Neera Tanden, President Biden’s nominee to head the Office of Management and Budget, declaring that her “allegiance is not to America and it’s not to President Biden, it’s to Secretary [Hillary] Clinton.” The Indian American, you see, is not loyal to this country.
That is a message that many Republicans have been telling us about women of color, although not always as overtly. The Post reports, “Many of the president’s Black, Latino, Asian and Native American nominees are encountering more political turbulence than their White counterparts, further drawing out the process of staffing the federal government.” When someone like Tanden is treated so differently — accusing her of disloyalty and making up a new standard never employed for Republicans or White males (mean tweets) — that “turbulence” becomes indistinguishable from racism.
It does not stop there. The GOP is now going after two nominees for key spots in the Justice Department, Vanita Gupta for associate attorney general and Kristen Clarke for head of the civil rights division. And — no shocker — both are women of color. The Post reports: “Kristen Clarke, a Black lawyer who has been nominated to lead the Civil Rights Division at Justice, has been accused of being insensitive to Jewish people because she invited the author of an antisemitic book to speak at Harvard. She has said she regrets this decision.” She was 19 years old at the time. That’s it.
Sheila Katz, chief executive of the National Council of Jewish Women, responded in an op-ed for NBC News:
Clarke herself has never been accused of making anti-Semitic comments. Not one. Full stop. She has spent her career championing the rights of Jews and all of the most marginalized and at-risk people in our country during her time at the Justice Department, at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, at the New York Attorney General's Office as director of the Civil Rights Bureau or as president of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. And her nomination is supported by a number of prominent Jewish organizations and people — including me and the organization I lead, the National Council of Jewish Women.The criticism Clarke faces is solely because in 1994, as the 19-year-old head of the Harvard Black Students Association, the group she led accepted Wellesley College professor Tony Martin’s offer to speak on campus to rebut the racist screed “The Bell Curve.” In 1993, Martin had become embroiled in several academic disputes over his promotion of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, which led him to self-publish a book about the controversy that many at his college labeled anti-Semitic. The speech was controversial, and Clarke defended the decision to host Martin.
Republicans have been throwing fits about “cancel culture” and disinviting controversial speakers on campus. Their own party includes a House member who has spread antisemitic conspiracy theories (Jewish lasers?!). Are we’re supposed to believe they care one whit about antisemitism?
Clarke has spent her career fighting religious discrimination — from her work in New York to launch the Religious Rights Initiative that, as Katz wrote, “worked to secure accommodations for employees in multiple workplaces to observe the Sabbath” to partnering with Jewish organizations, to championing the “Lawyers’ Committee’s Stop Hate Project that worked to combat hate crimes and white supremacy — including suing the owner of the Nazi-sympathizing platform The Daily Stormer.”
Clearly, Republicans’ opposition to her is not about some newfound concern about antisemitism. It’s about making a woman of color, whose qualifications are beyond question, into a scary, radical figure.
Meanwhile, right-wing groups have launched a campaign calling Gupta “dangerous,” falsely claiming she advocated defunding the police in a speech. They have also claimed that she wants to lessen punishment for violent white supremacists, an absurd distortion of her opposition to the federal death penalty — a view many elected officials hold.
It is not hard to find the pattern. Take a woman of color who is an outspoken advocate for her views. Call her dangerous, radical, extreme, disloyal. Find some scrap of something that proves nothing and seems to contradict their enabling of a racist, disgraced ex-president. It is as blatant as their attempts to disenfranchise Black voters, their refusal to disown white-supremacist groups and their lionization of Confederate imagery. Forget the “Party of Lincoln”; this is the party of Jim Crow.