The Condoleezza Rice nomination was a sorry spectacle, but not in the way everyone is saying. Frankly, I think Sen. Barbara Boxer was completely within her rights - as rude and as typically middle-brow as she was - to criticize Condoleezza Rice. Cabinet appointments are a time-honored way of expressing opposition to presidential policies.
No, the sorry spectacle is the grand fog of racial confusion that the Rice hearings illuminated. On one side we have some Republicans and conservatives accusing Democrats of some veiled form of racism or sexism for giving Rice a hard time. On the other side we some Democrats denouncing Republicans for even bringing Rice's race and sex into the discussion. This is all about policy, they insist. In other words, nonsense all around.
How'd we get here? Well, that's a long story. But let's start with Bush's victory in 2000, which presented a real dilemma for Democrats who'd spent the 1990s playing the race card like it was an expiring coupon. It was Bill Clinton who really transformed the rules of the game when it comes to diversity-mongering. The most obvious symbol of this enlightened thinking was the famous declaration that his cabinet would "look like America." This meant that "diversity" would be achieved once you've appointed a crayon box of different colors (and sexes, though that ruins the metaphor).
The cynical brilliance behind this thinking was that it allowed Democrats to accuse Republicans of being racists when they were really just inconvenient. We were told that making a big deal about the illegal donations to Clinton's campaign from Asian sources - as well as charges of espionage at Los Alamos - were driven by Republican bigotry toward Asians. Various intellectual types claimed that impeachment was really thinly veiled bigotry against "the first black president" or against "sexual dissidents" of one kind or another. Stop laughing, I'm serious.
When John Ashcroft was still a senator, he famously fought the nomination of the Judge Ronnie White to the federal bench. Liberals immediately accused Ashcroft of racism. Sen. Patrick Leahy declared that we had "reverted to a time in (our) history when there was a color test on nominations."