Harry Reid Rebuked For Racially Charged Remarks
By Kathy Flynn
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
In a reversal of roles, bloodthirsty members of the GOP are tightening up the last few coils on the rope with which they wish to hang Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. A predictable wildfire of political posturing and brouhaha has resulted from recently exposed comments made by Senator Reid about President Barack Obama. Reid’s remarks were revealed in a new book, “Game Change” by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann about the 2008 presidential race. According to the book, Reid was impressed by Obama’s candidacy during the primaries, and said privately that the country was ready for a black president - particularly a “light-skinned” one “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” [Politico]
Comments about the ethnicity of high-level government officials have always been considered to be in bad taste. In the case of Obama, they’re downright taboo, and for good reason. When we Americans voted the first black person into the White House, most of us did so with the assumption that petty issues about race were finally behind us. Or, at the very least, would be relegated to the dank and squalid outskirts of the Deep South.
Or so we thought. Now, in a veritable political food-fight, Republicans normally on the defense over issues of race, are having a field day at their long-awaited turn at bat. GOP National Committee Chairman Michael Steele, as well as National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn, has called on Reid to step down from his post as Senate Majority Leader. They recite clamoring from the Democrats for the head of Trent Lott, back in 2002, after he lauded the late Senator Strom Thurmond during his 100th birthday party. Lott, unlike Reid, proceeded to resign his leadership post in the wake of the controversy.
Back in 2002, Lott’s statement was “I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we 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 these problems over all these years, either.” To fully appreciate what all the fuss was over, remember that Strom Thurmond was a staunch segregationist. In Thurmond’s own words,
“All the laws of Washington and all the bayonets of the Army cannot force the Negro into our homes, our schools, our churches.”
On the surface, at least, there appears to be a distinct difference between the comments of Harry Reid and those of Trent Lott. Harry Reid’s remarks seem to come from a man somewhat rooted in the past. But the use of the word “negro” was more than just an unfortunate anachronism. It was downright distasteful and insulting. And, apparently, it’s a word that Reid reserves for his most private conversations. He’s never said anything in public remotely like it. Reid’s public oratory remains steadfastly PC, without any hint of words like “negro.”
But, it’s difficult to read the mind of a politician. Take the comments of Trent Lott. Did Lott really mean, from his heart of hearts, the praise and adulation he offered Strom Thurmond? Or, was this just an example of a skilled politician paying panegyrical tribute to a life-long colleague on the night of his 100th birthday?
In Washington, you just never know.
One thing we all do know, however, is that Senator Reid is up for re-election in November of this year. And although the Senate Majority Leader is well prepared for the fight 10 months from now, the polls indicate that voters from his home state of Nevada are poised to get rid of Reid when given the opportunity.
Here are some of the latest numbers, according to a survey by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research, which interviewed 625 registered Nevada voters by telephone Jan. 5-7. 52 percent had an unfavorable opinion of Reid, 33 percent had a favorable view and another 15 percent said they’re neutral. In early December, a Mason-Dixon poll put his unfavorable-favorable rating at 49-38. The lowest Reid’s popularity had slipped before in the surveys was 50 percent — in October, August and May of 2009. The poll also took a snapshot of how Reid would do against three potential GOP opponents. In each case it showed the senator losing with only 40 percent of voters supporting him
- Sue Lowden, former Nevada Republican Party chairwoman, would get 50 percent of the vote to Reid’s 40 percent with 10 percent undecided.
- Danny Tarkanian, a businessman and former UNLV basketball star, would gain 49 percent of the vote to Reid’s 41 percent.
- Sharron Angle, a former Reno assemblywoman, would get 45 percent of the vote to Reid’s 40 percent, a strong showing given her low name recognition statewide — 42 percent don’t know her.
In an attempt to point out partisan hypocrisy, and at the same time score a few points with the voters, Sue Lowden had this to say to Fox News on Monday: “(Reid) was one of the first ones to jump on Trent Lott, and surely if (Senate Republican Leader Mitch) McConnell said something like that he’d be one of the first ones to call for his resignation. So it is a double standard. … The Democrats can get away with saying those things and the Republicans could never, never get away with saying something like that.”
Republicans aren’t the only ones excoriating Harry Reid for his remarks. A few Democrats have also weighed in, but in a softer and more understanding manner. Democratic New York Governor David Paterson, who is black, called Reid’s comment “reprehensible,” but said he should not have to resign his post over the controversy, according to New York’s Times Union.
Representative Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, released a written statement Monday saying Reid “understands the gravity” of his comment but should remain as majority leader. She said Reid, unlike Republicans, works on behalf of poor and minority communities.
In some cases, democrats are actually coming to Harry Reid’s rescue. Eric Holder, the country’s first black attorney general, defended Reid in an interview with The Associated Press. “I don’t think that there is a prejudiced bone in his body,” he said. Even President Obama reacted in his usual sober manner. In an interview with TV One, he called Reid a “stalwart champion … of civil rights” and a “good man” who meant no offense.
“For him to have used some inartful language in trying to praise me, and for people to try to make hay out of that makes absolutely no sense…” He continued, “He apologized, recognizing that he didn’t use appropriate language, but there was nothing mean-spirited in what he had to say and he’s always been on the right side of the issues.”
Harry Reid, although apologetic, is not backing down. Despite calls for him to step down from his leadership position, or even from the senate altogether, he is still remaining steadfast. And, he shows no signs of fear in the face of the up-coming mid-term elections. The 70 year-old, four-term democrat had this to say in a statement: “I am absolutely running for re-election. These are difficult times for Nevada and as the majority leader of the Senate I have been able to take action to address those challenges. But I know there is more work to do to turn our state’s economy around and create jobs and I am committed to seeing it through.”
At the end of the day, what Reid said was not the be-all and end-all of horrifying statements. Sandy Banks, in an editorial in the Los Angeles Times, said “If anyone is insulted, it should be whites — whom Reid accused implicitly of being willing to vote for a black man only if he talks like them and is not too black.” She points out that Obama’s appearance and avoidance of “Negro dialect” — except when reaching out to blacks — allowed white voters to feel comfortable with his politics and his intellect. Perhaps.
Or, after eight years of George W. Bush repeatedly butchering words, perhaps whites (and everyone else) are simply more comfortable with someone who speaks the king’s English and displays a level of intellect higher than most of the people in the room.
The fact is that Reid should, and given his public performances, does know better than to use words in the manner he did back in 2008. And, though it maybe too much to ask that he voluntarily resign his position as Senate Majority Leader, he should receive his just deserts in the 2010 election.