This week, in dealing with the cable news chatter surrounding Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court, we got to see an example of the change in the political debate that has already occurred.

Newt Gingrich, in reacting to a statement Sotomayor made a few years ago (in which she merely noted that a Latina woman is, in some ways, more qualified than a white man to understand certain legal and societal problems in the United States), called Sotomayor “racist” in a tweet on Twitter.

Yet, in an op-ed published Wednesday, Gingrich seemed to backtrack.

“My initial reaction was strong and direct — perhaps too strong and too direct. The sentiment struck me as racist and I said so. Since then, some who want to have an open and honest consideration of Judge Sotomayor’s fitness to serve on the nation’s highest court have been critical of my word choice.

“With these critics who want to have an honest conversation, I agree. The word ‘racist’ should not have been applied to Judge Sotomayor as a person, even if her words themselves are unacceptable (a fact which both President Obama and his Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs, have since admitted).”

What’s interesting to me is that this was so quickly walked back (for a Republican). Normally, Republicans/conservatives make similar statements, often using harsh language, and while they provoke a reaction, the incidents usually don’t seem to elicit any admission of error. Gingrich’s walk-back hints that maybe we have a political dialogue that’s undergoing a transformation in this country (finally). Using inflammatory language isn’t as hip as it used to be in, say, 1994. All of a sudden we have too many problems in this country to be tossing out the equivalent of the atomic bomb in a debate.

I’m digging the emphasis on constructive dialogue, and it excites me that Gingrich was forced to admit that perhaps his statement was too reactionary.

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