As much as some political commentators try to dismiss the role of race (and gender) in the 2008 presidential election, the facts say otherwise. Obama won the election on the strength of women, black and Latino voters. McCain won a majority of white votes nationally, as has every other Republican candidate starting with the 1968 election.
During his campaign, Obama tried to downplay and market his race simultaneously. He ran as the "historic" candidate, which subtly referenced his racial background. He also ran as the post-racial candidate, in order to avoid being racialized and dismissed as the "black" candidate. Despite its sometimes subtle presence, race played a very powerful role in Obama's candidacy, message and election victory.
Although Obama relied upon identity politics for his electoral success, the White House is instructing GLBT, Latino and women's groups to kill the identity talk. Several GLBT, Latino and women's civil rights groups have urged the president to pick a candidate who will enhance the Court's diversity. No openly gay or Latino person has ever sat on the Supreme Court. Only two women (both white) have occupied a seat on the Court. And two black men have also served on the Court.
I agree that the candidate should not look like a "token" hire, but there are many persons of color, women, and GLBT lawyers who would make excellent Supreme Court justices. There is absolutely nothing wrong with considering diversity as a factor among evenly talented candidates. Reagan appointed the first woman, and gender played an explicit role in the selection process. Bush I appointed the second black justice only after the first black justice retired. Perhaps that was a mere coincidence.
Despite this history, White House officials sound more like Republicans picking a justice than Democrats. They are falling for the utterly hypocritical, ahistorical, and self-serving conservative rhetoric that condemns the consideration of ideology in the appointments process. Apparently, Alito, Roberts, and Scalia are coincidentally conservative.
Now the White House is doing its best to toss aside the very identity-based movements and politics that won the election for Obama. Press Secretary Robert Gibbs says that: "I don’t think that the lobbying of interest groups will help. . . .I think in many ways lobbying can – and will –be counterproductive." Of course, Gibbs never identifies the dangers the groups create by stating their preference for diversity. Also, it seems odd that Gibbs would disparage "special interest" groups, when labor, civil rights, feminist, pro-choice, anti-war, glbt, and many other "interest groups" are essential components of the Democratic Party. Without their support, neither Obama nor Gibbs would have a job at the White House.
This is not change.