Liberals don't know what to do with nondeferential minorities

SAN DIEGO — In the minds of many liberal Democrats, Hispanics and African Americans must seem to come in only two varieties: deferential or defective. And according to one angry caller — who was, from the sound of it, perfectly at home in a blue state — I fall into the second category. "I think you're deluded," he said, "and maybe insane."

I'm just guessing, but something tells me the caller would probably say the same thing about Janice Rogers Brown, who two years ago was nominated by President Bush to fill a vacancy on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Last week, Brown was finally confirmed but not before Senate Democrats and their accomplices in left-leaning advocacy groups such as People for the American Way did their best to try to paint this black conservative and California Supreme Court chief justice as an "extremist" whose views are outside the mainstream.

Translation: Brown doesn't defer to liberals. So she must be defective.

By the way, here's something I've noticed: When conservatives criticize a person of color, they often insult you. But liberals usually are condescending. They don't say they're upset as much as "disappointed" in you.

And so it was that the caller was disappointed in me. What fired him up was a column I'd written about Alberto Gonzales, the nation's first Latino attorney general. In it, I argued that liberal Democrats weren't really interested in promoting diversity unless they get the credit for it, and that this explained their lukewarm reaction to Gonzales — an American success story whose nomination by President Bush they can't claim credit for.

It's not that the Democrats are suddenly anti-minority. I just think they're skittish and insecure when it comes to their own minority outreach efforts, such as they are. And so each time Bush or another prominent Republican tries to make minorities feel at home in the GOP, Democrats worry that the hold that they have on these groups may weaken and they won't be able to do much about it.

Just as they can't do much to stop Bush from appointing Hispanics and African Americans to top positions in the Cabinet and in the federal courts, something that further frightens and frustrates liberal Democrats. And when Democrats oppose these nominees, it's usually not because of who these nominees are or even because of what they believe. Rather, it's because of what they represent and what it means in the grand scheme. Just look at the line that was being advanced by Sen. Barbara Boxer of California.

"Her life story is amazing. It is remarkable," Boxer said of the California jurist as the Senate was debating Brown's nomination. "What I don't like is what she is doing to other people's lives. Her story is amazing, but for whatever reason, she is hurting the people of this country, particularly, right now, in my state."

So this is the Democrats' dilemma. How are they supposed to market themselves to minorities as the one-and-only party of opportunity when Bush is putting nonwhite faces in high places? Better to try to paint the Republican Party as a restricted club, as Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean did recently when he described the GOP as "pretty much a white Christian party." And minority Republicans as aberrations.

I bet all this would come as news to Janice Rogers Brown, who attends church regularly. Just as I bet it would come as news to Miguel Estrada, the Hispanic gentleman who, at one point, seemed headed for the D.C. appeals court for which Brown is now confirmed — until his nomination was unfairly derailed by rank racial politics.

Estrada is a top-shelf Washington lawyer who had, after coming to the United States from Honduras and graduating with honors from Columbia University and Harvard Law School, worked as an assistant U.S. attorney and an assistant solicitor general. Yet none of that prepared Estrada for the meat grinder of the judicial confirmation process. Before long, Estrada was — in an experience that must have seemed surreal to him at the time — fending off accusations from white Democrats that he "wasn't Hispanic enough." That was Estrada's defect. It was also complete nonsense.

I don't see why liberals won't say what they really mean. It's obvious that what concerns them is not that these nominees aren't real minorities, but rather that they aren't their kind of minority. You know, the kind that asks for permission before they speak and makes sure that what they say falls in line with the views of their liberal benefactors.

Ruben Navarrette's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His e-mail address is