Lindsey Graham Embarrases His Own Firefighter Witnesses

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July 16 2009 5:57 PM

Lindsey Graham Embarrases His Own Firefighter Witnesses

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Sen. Lindsey Graham has had many patronizing moments during the Sotomayor hearings, and I've been cutting him a break because the substance of his questions has been interesting even if the tone has been off. But this afternoon he got to me. Graham spent much of the day making the point that discrimination against minorities is a real problem. Good. I was rooting for him, too, when he cut off Linda Chavez's attack on Sotomayor with, "Let’s make sure everyone in the country knows we aren’t just a party of short white guys." But then he went after his own real-person, New Haven firefighter witnesses. He started by lecturing Frank Ricci, the white firefighter who is the named plaintiff in the case the Republicans have been bashing Sotomayor with all week, about how the country is one generation away from discrimination and ended with, "I hope you don't forget that." This is a seriously misplaced bit of lecturing. And then, worse, he asked Ben Vargas, the one Hispanic among the firefighters who sued, if people had called him an Uncle Tom. Vargas murmured yes. Graham switched to, "I think you've done a lot for America and the Hispanic community." If that was his message, why did he make Vargas go down the self-shaming path? If these were experienced Washington player kind of witnesses, that would be one thing. But these guys will probably never be in the spotlight again. They don't need their own side wrecking the moment.

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Photograph of Frank Ricci and Ben Vargas by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

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