Sen. Harry Reid apologized to President Obama and African-Americans this weekend for newly published remarks that referenced then-presidential candidate Obama’s race. In “Game Change,” Reid is quoted suggesting Obama’s “light-skin” and lack of a “negro dialect” would enhance his electoral viability.
The comments led GOP chair Michael Steele and other leading Republicans Sunday to call for Reid to step down as majority leader, and accuse Democrats of maintaining a double-standard for having accepted Reid’s apology. Many GOPers referenced former Republican Sen. Trent Lott, who was forced out as majority leader in 2002 for having spoken favorably of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond’s 1948 segregationist presidential bid.
Across the blogosphere, pundits argued Reid would likely weather the political storm, for now, though the episode was proof that race endures as a political issue.
“Steele is correct that there is a double standard in these matters, but he and many others are wrong to equate Reid's comment with Lott's,” blogs Paul Mirengoff for the conservative Powerline. “Trent Lott lauded the presidential candidacy of an avowed segregationist, suggesting that things would have gone better if that candidate had been elected. His comments were normative and, if he meant what he said, racist because they implied that segregation was preferable to integration.”
“Obviously, the Republican campaign won't get Reid ousted--although it will hurt his tenuous re-election campaign in an increasingly non-white state,” blogs Time Magazine columnist Joe Klein. Klein also calls for an end to “too many witch hunts.”
“It wasn't racism, but, ignorance that spewed from Reid's mouth,” writes Colbert King for The Washington Post. Reid and his “fellow experts on all things African-American” don’t realize that most of the words once associated with “Negro Dialect” don’t even exist anymore, King argues. “They are not the slang that some black people currently use for effect under certain social circumstances. Obama is joined by millions of African Americans who don't speak with a "Negro dialect" or ever try to use one.”
“There’s nothing Americans love more than demanding ‘honest talk’ about race and then kicking the teeth out of anyone who engages in it,” writes CUNY J-School professor Peter Beinart for The Daily Beast. In making the case that “Harry Reid was right,” Beinart references two studies -- one correlating skin tone with voter preferences; the other connects speech patterns with housing discrimination -- that show bias still alive and well in America.