Since she was nominated by President Obama to the U.S. Supreme Court last month, Judge Sonia Sotomayor has come under a hale of fire from Republican thugs, who have called her a racist. Their “evidence” is that she has speculated out loud that a Latina judge might bring more wisdom to the bench than another old white man.

Newt Gingrich and Rush Limbaugh have teed off on Sotomayor in the last week; Limbaugh even went so far as to compare her to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

How ironic and preposterous — and hypocritical? — can the Republican Party get? Anyone casually acquainted with the history of the modern Republican Party knows that it was built on racism. The GOP took over the South in the 1960s and 1970s on the promise that it would go slow on desegregation and enforcement of civil rights legislation. It took over the country with such racist code words as “welfare queen,” promising to protect white people from “crime” and “urban culture.” The infamous Willie Horton ad, run by George H.W. Bush’s presidential campaign in 1988, is still a low point in American political history.

It is no longer fashionable — or politically safe — to play an overtly racist card in national politics. The election of President Barack Obama is proof that attitudes have changed tremendously from what they were just a generation ago. So the Republican Party has had to seek new wedge issues to incite the fearful and the ignorant. Gay marriage has proven very effective, but it can also be a two-edged sword. The next time Rush Limbaugh or anybody else tries to tell you that Sonia Sotomayor or anybody else is a racist, ask that person if he accepts the principle of gay marriage. If he says no, you can reasonably assume that he is a modern GOP bigot, dressed up for the 21st century.

The Republican Party is the party of fear and bigotry. It is true today, more than ever.