Monday, January 11, 2010

What Reid said

Like Steve Benen, I find Harry Reid's 2008 comments about Obama -- "light-skinned," "no Negro dialect" -- "disappointing," but that's about it. Reid has apologized, and I take his apology to be sincere:

I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African Americans, for my improper comments.

And, to quote Steve:

Reid also reached out directly to a variety of leaders from the African-American community, and the initial reports suggest the senator's apologies were well received. Al Sharpton, for example, called the comments "unfortunate," but emphasized the "unquestionable leadership role" Reid has played on a variety of issues, including civil rights. Sharpton added, "Senator Reid's door has always been open on hearing from the civil rights community on these issues and I look forward to continue to work with Senator Reid wherever possible to improve the lives of Americans everywhere."

And it's that context that keeps me from pouncing. Reid's comments clearly warranted an apology, but his record and credibility on racial issues helps mitigate his genuinely dumb choice of words. I don't think Reid is a racist -- if anything, his comments seem to be an assessment of white people and their voting attitudes, not black people -- but the fact that his race-related rhetoric is decades out of date is discouraging, to put it mildly.

There you go: disappointing and discouraging. So let's be done with it.

Ah, if only it were that easy. Republicans, predictably, have jumped all over Reid, with embattled RNC Chair Michael Steele calling for his resignation, as if Democrats should ever take Steele's advice or suggestions at all seriously, as they are never given in good faith. (So what if Steele thinks Reid should resign? What business is it of his?)

Republicans are also pointing to a supposed double standard here. Back in 2002, then Majority Leader Trent Lott, a Republican, was forced out after saying that Strom Thurmond, a fellow Republican and segregationist, should have been elected president in 1948, indeed, that the country would have been better off for it. Why is Reid allowed to keep his position, they ask, if Lott wasn't?

Steve is right that "there's really no comparison here." Reid's choice of words was unfortunate, and stupid, but his comments weren't racist. He was actually one of Obama's more prominent supporters for president. When this story broke, he called the president and apologized personally. And Obama accepted his apology:

I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed.

Again, there you go. It's all much ado about very little, and that very little has been taken care of. Just don't expect Republicans to let it go anytime soon. Without any policy alternatives to stand out, and without much of a vision, all they can do it try to score political points off manufactured scandals, and here, as ever, they're doing with all the desperate gusto they can muster.

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  • Reid's comments were absolutely, one hundred percent accurate! It was the smartest thing he'd said in years and he's said nothing particularly intelligent since.

    Now, I actually partly disagree with Reid. I do believe that a dark-skinned African-American could be elected president. But speaking with a "Negro" dialect, especially a strong one like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, gets you nowhere.

    Of course, the most interesting thing about Reid's comments were not that Obama does not have Negro dialect, but that he can if he wants to. That was clearly seen in the primary season when Obama spoke before primarily African-American audiences. The best examples of this are when Obama slipped into the dialect while paraphrasing Malcom X that people were being hoodwinked and bamboozled. It's always impressive to borrow quotes from a violent criminal.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:32 AM  

  • Good point! The British have seen our borrowings from Washington, Jefferson, Tom Paine and James Madison as the words of violent criminals and terrorists as well as religious heretics. It's good to keep that in mind.

    The President, when assuming a more southern dialect for a certain audience might just be pandering however, and it annoys me. Little in his background would suggest that he picked up any localized accent other than Kansas or Honolulu.

    For my part, and from what I hear from many supporters, the idea that he represents all of us, talks like all of us and shares a background with all of us is a plus. It makes it sound a bit far out to dismiss him as part of a narrow minority with a parochial viewpoint -- kind of like you.

    By Blogger Capt. Fogg, at 9:52 AM  

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