Monday, January 11, 2010

What a Difference a (D) Makes!

By now the news that Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada) positively evaluated then-Senator Barack Obama's Presidential chances due to the fact that he is "light skinned" with "no Negro dialect, unless he wants to have one" is old news. That the Majority Leader has a Bidenesque talent for the unfortunate comment is hardly news -- just last December he called the American people who visit the Capitol building "smelly" despite the fact that, ostensibly he works for and serves them -- so this latest gaffe could be dismissed as merely the latest in a long line of misspeaks. He is currently trailing in the polls and it looks like he'll likely be returning to Nevada for good this time next year. The news, instead, is the twin-pronged reaction to those comments, first from the ear-witnesses to them and then from most of his fellow Democrats and much of the mainstream media once they came to light.

Journalists Mark Halperin (of Time) and John Heilemann knew of the remarks for nearly two years but chose to sit on them until the publication of their book on the 2008 presidential election, Game Change: Obama and Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime (released today) -- a decision that will increase interest in and sales of their book and, in so doing, drive up their profits. This is journalistic malpractice. If his comments were newsworthy -- and the extent to which they have dominated the news since the story broke indicates that they are indeed -- then they should have been reported when they occurred (on the other hand, if the remarks -- which occurred in a private conversation -- weren't newsworthy then Halperin and Heilemann should've kept them in confidence).

Once news of them broke, Senator Reid was quick to issue his mea culpas and President Obama and almost all of his fellow Democrats were quick to announce that all was forgiven. The vast majority of the media were also willing to let it go away. This stood in stark contrast to the treatment given former Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) some seven years ago. At the 5 December 2002 100th Birthday Party for Senator Strom Thurmond (R-South Carolina), Lott referenced Thurmond's 1948 Presidential run on the States' Rights ticket and said, "When Strom Thurmond ran for President we [Mississippi] voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all of these problems over the years, either."

It is true that when Strom Thurmond ran for President integration was a prominent part of his campaign and that the rhetoric was fiery. That was not the only issue, however, and concerns regarding an increasingly centralized Federal government determined to run roughshod over the Constitutional limits imposed upon it were timely then and timely now. It's also worth considering that Thurmond's run occurred when he was 45 years old -- while he was mature at the time and responsible for his positions, he also went on to serve another 65 years in public life and modified many of those positions. He was the first Southern Senator to appoint a black aide and supported extending the Voting Rights Act and the Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday; as Governor of South Carolina he had opposed lynching (something that is a no-brainer today but was a controversial stance at the time). He was also a veteran, having served in combat in World War II and been both decorated for valor and wounded, and having retired from the Army Reserve as a Major General. Despite all of that, Lott's brief remarks at a centenarian's birthday party generated hot controversy and cost him his job as Majority Leader.

Senator Reid's comments have been largely ignored or, when acknowledged, forgiven except by a few Republicans and conservative talk show hosts. The defense that Senator Reid's comments were different than Senator Lott's falls flat: Lott's comments were made in passing to honor a colleague on his birthday and contained no racial observations whatsoever while Senator Reid's comments were expressly racial and were serious. It is doubtful that he will face any ramifications and that fact alone speaks volumes as to the bias of the media and the double standard to which conservatives are held


  1. Drew, the only significance to these remarks, aside from them being sociologically true is that they show hypocrisy. I would love to see a time when anyone could say "Obama's lightness and well spokenenss {sic} got him elected" because it is largely true. A darker guy with some "negro dialect" maybe much more competent (or idealogically correct, we could hope) but many would not vote for him.
    I hope Reid does not retreat from his positions one bit. He is now hobbled and all the news is now that almost any Republican in NV could beat him. As long as no health bill passes, keep him until next January. I thought the TMA morning guy handled this well.
    Greg Bailey
    PS Here is my blog.