The GOP Senators questioning Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor must have a truly remarkable tolerance for making themselves look like condescending, hypocritical jackasses in public.

I haven’t followed the hearings at length—I don’t have the constitution for that kind of self-abuse—but what I have seen and heard is remarkable enough.

It’s amazing to see men who clearly don’t actually object to racism try and tar her as a racist. Jeff “calls black men boy” Sessions? Seriously?

Nor do they object to ethnic pride—the same bunch raised nary a peep when Sam Alito waxed on about how his Italian-American upbringing influenced him—yet they try to use a single Sotomayor remark about “wise Latina women” as a club to beat her with.

Nor do they actually believe “empathy” is a problem—on the contrary, they dredge up the Ricci v. DeStefano case specifically to highlight what a sympathetic plaintiff Ricci allegedly was, even though Sotomayor’s court ruled against him.

Nor do they give a damn about judicial “bias” or “acgtivism”—indeed, they ask Sotomayor about abortion and gun control specifically because they hold positions that contradict long-established precedent, and prefer judges who do the same.

Nor do they expect to convince anyone or change anything by all this vapid rhetoric. On the contrary, they fully expect her to be confirmed. Nevertheless, GOP leaders have publicly said they hope to muster as many opposition votes as there were against John Roberts—apparently just to prove how pointlessly obstructionist they can be (as if there were any doubt).

(If there’s any legitimate criticism to be leveled against Sotomayor, it’s the one thing we’re not hearing from anyone on the panel this week:  that far from being radical, she’s frankly too mainstream a judge. After years of hugely lopsided right-wing dominance, the USSC would benefit greatly from a Justice willing to rock the boat a bit. Sotomayor is perfectly competent and qualified, but she’s not someone who’s likely to redress the Court’s woeful imbalance.)

The GOP committee members can’t possibly be unaware of how they’re coming across. They caricature not only the nominee, not only the Constitution and the role of judges, but themselves. What we’re seeing here, I have to conclude, is a group of officeholders who have quite simply given up on any possibility of appealing to intelligent, attentive citizens, and are playing strictly to the yokels in the cheap seats back home. The true believers, the talk radio listeners, “the base.”

One has to wonder just how large that audience is. Rush Limbaugh engages in all the same rhetorical idiocy and worse, and regularly attracts some 14 million listeners a week, after all. Of course, 14 million people isn’t near enough to win any national election. Apparently, though, distributed strategically across states with relatively low levels of population (not to mention education), it’s enough to elect quite a few U.S. Senators.

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