The ethnic card and nominees

During the Senate confirmation hearings for Alberto Gonzales as Attorney General, I heard constant references to his humble origins.

Growing up in a shack with seven brothers and sisters, no hot water, no telephone, the son of migrant workers, he made it to Harvard Law School, to the Texas judiciary, and to the White House staff. Judge Gonzales had been introduced to the Senate Judiciary Committee by recently elected Sen. Ken Salazar of Colorado, a Democrat but a fellow Hispanic.

And in the rows behind the witness table there were arrayed representatives of major Hispanic organizations.

Gonzales faced some serious questions about the White House memos he had written on prisoner abuse, but President Bush had said that Gonzales embodied "the American Dream," and who would want to fight the American Dream?

The Democrats tried to deploy the American nightmare of Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse. But, in the end, Gonzales was confirmed, with an unusual 36 "nay" votes.

The ethnic card was also played by Condoleezza Rice, but more subtly. She had said, testifying before the 9/11 commission last April, "When our Founding Fathers said, 'We, the people,' they didn't mean me." But succeeding another African-American, Colin Powell, as secretary of State, Dr. Rice did not need to talk about her race.

There were civil rights groups that raised the race issue. The Congress of Racial Equality criticized Sen. Robert Byrd (D) of West Virginia, a one-time Klansman, for his opposition to the nominee. Rice was confirmed with 13 votes against her. There is no indication that race played any part.

Why do I go back over this recent history? Because I would hope the time had come when ethnicity was simply a fact and not a recommendation for high office.

Raul Reyes, a New York attorney, wrote in USA Today that he hoped to see the day when the president would no longer make his selection based on, "He's loyal, he's Latino and he has a great life story."

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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