By an excruciating bipartisan vote of 52-47, the Senate on Wednesday rejected lawyer Debo Adegbile for a non-life-tenured position as chief of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division. The vote teaches us at least three disturbing things about politics in America today— beyond the fact that we now have proof that dozens of senators don't believe the head of the nation's civil-rights office should actually care about civil rights.
1. Willie Horton never really went away: We will never know whether and to what extent Wednesday's vote would have been different—and whether the entire debate over his qualifications would have been different—if Adegbile were white and had a name that everyone could easily pronounce. But we know precisely how his opponents in and out of office used his race and his name against him. Nothing better symbolizes the racial component to this story, the Willie Hortonization of this man, more than this image from talk-radio host Michael Graham's website:
It's not news that this sort of ugly racial identification still occurs 25 years after Willie Horton made his sensational debut onto the national scene. It is not news that the conservative spin machine would turn this complicated legal narrative into headlines like "Senate Democrats and a Cop Killer" over a photo of Adegbile. The news here is that seven meek Democrats, along with so-called "moderate" Republicans like Orrin Hatch and John McCain, failed to stand up to it on Wednesday. In the Senate, in the year 2014, it didn't matter what the American Bar Association or Paul Clement said about him.