For those of you who didn’t know it, there’s a double standard between the ways that Republicans are treated when they say or do stupid things, and the way Democrats are treated. Shocking, I know.
The easy comparison that’s being made all over the blogosphere today is the way Trent Lott was treated when he said that Strom Thurmond would have made a good President, and the way Harry Reid is being treated when he said that a “light-skinned” black man with “no Negro dialect” would make a good President.
Trent Lott’s mistake in trying to say something nice about a man on his 100th birthday was to forget that when Thurmond ran for President back in 1948 he was a segregationist. My guess is that the political platform on which Thurmond ran, as bad as it may have been, was not even slightly in Lott’s mind. Lott had known Thurmond for a number of years, had worked with him, and befriended him. The 100-year old man whose birthday party they were celebrating was not the same Dixiecrat segregationist he had been 54 years earlier. I thought at the time that it was a stupid comment, meant harmlessly.
Still, Lott was virtually crucified for the comment and the first critics were Republicans and conservatives. Some of this may have been guided by ulterior motives: Lott was never a popular Senate Majority Leader among conservatives who saw him (rightfully) as a pork-crazy, wishy-washy, inept leader, and this was an excellent chance to kill the king. What the Democrats saw was also a political opportunity, but with a particularly malodorous strain. For the Dems it was less about killing the king as it was about tarnishing the entire Republican party as closet racists longing for a return to the good ol’ days of Jim Crow. Many conservatives and Republicans wanted Lott to step down so they could put one of their own in his place. The Democrats wanted Lott to step down as some sort of tacit evidence of a poisoned ideology coursing through the bloodstreams of all Republicans.
Now the tables are turned and it is the Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who has been caught trying his best to swallow his own foot. This time, however, the Democrats are fine with it, since Reid apologized (Lott did, also, to no avail), and it is just the Republicans who are clamoring for the head of Harry Reid.
I would compare Reid’s comments to Lott’s in this way: Reid’s comments were also stupid, but harmlessly meant. I don’t believe that Reid harbors racist tendencies and I don’t believe he’s got a white hood hanging up in his closet. He has apologized to Obama, and owes a mea culpa to the political class in general. I don’t believe Reid should be forced to step down. I do think he is a typical white liberal, who has spent many years pining away for what Rick Brookhiser termed “The Numinous Negro“, and who believes that the vast majority of voters (i.e., white voters) are racists who would be unwilling to vote for a man of too dark a hue. If there is racism in Reid’s comments it is the odd brand of self-loathing racism that bedevils many so-called Progressives: so unsure of their own hearts, they project their desperate need for approval and reassurance of their inherent goodness onto others in their own ethnicity. Now, of course, he is defending himself by accusing Republicans of being racist (not for the first time: he recently compared people opposed to health care reform as being like slave owners). Apparently to the Democrats, any opposition to the NAACPone of the most radical liberal groups in the countryis racist.
My guess is that there were not too many Obama supporters who voted for him because he was light-skinned enough. But there is Reid thinking that the (white) people who swept Obama into office were so racist that they would consider the actual shade of darkness of Obama’s skin. Reid should probably be made to understand that the reason Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton were never elected President (they both ran) was not because they were too dark-skinned, but because they were (and are) way outside of the mainstream of political thought in this country. Barack Obama presented himself to voters as being a mainstream candidate, though the truth turned out to be far different.
In the end, Reid has fallen victim to the identity politics practiced to near-perfection by the Democratic Party in America. Reid has assumed that all of America views people as he does: as mere representatives of ethnic groups. What he said may not have been racist in the sense that he was not suggesting any sort of superiority or inferiority of one ethnic group or another, but make no mistake: this is how Harry Reid, and the Democrats in general, really view the world.