what other people think

Why Harry Reid Is Just Not the Trent Lott of 2010

So, by now we all know that Harry Reid once said that Barack Obama would be a good candidate because he’s “light-skinned” and didn’t have a “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Since that revelation from Game Change (co-authored by our own John Heilemann) was leaked over the weekend, Reid has apologized and been embraced by President Obama and the Congressional Black Caucus. Nevertheless, leading Republicans like grudging RNC chairman Michael Steele and Texas senator John Cornyn, smelling the vulnerable blood of a senator facing bleak reelection prospects, have been calling for Reid’s resignation as majority leader. But they’re totally not motivated purely by cynical political calculations — they have a disingenuous interpretation of precedent on their side too! Their argument goes that Reid should face the same fate as Trent Lott, who, as the GOP’s Senate majority leader in 2002, was pressured to step down after publicly claiming that the nation would have been better off had Strom Thurmond, who ran for president on a segregationist platform, been elected. See how those two remarks are exactly the same thing? No? Well, you’re not alone.

• Ta-Nehisi Coates says “Negro, please.” While using the term “Negro dialect” was “racially insensitive and embarrassing … the fair-mind [sic] listener understands the argument — Barack Obama’s complexion and his ability to code-switch is an asset.” Meanwhile, Lott “was forced to resign because he offered tacit endorsement of white supremacy — frequently.” [Atlantic]

• Sandy Banks writes that Reid “didn’t say anything many Americans — especially us Negroes — don’t already know. If you’re black, it is easier in this country to be light-skinned. That’s borne out not just by anecdote and experience, but by research documenting favorable treatment for fair-skinned blacks in criminal cases, employment prospects, even social and romantic liaisons.” The apology should come from Michael Steele, who is either “playing politics with a combustible case, or he thinks Americans are so incapable of thinking intelligently about race that we can’t tell the difference between Lott and Reid.” [LAT]

• Michael Tomasky calls the comparisons between Reid and Lott “really amazing. One man is doing political handicapping. Another man is delivering an ode to an openly racist presidential candidate, saying the country could have avoided ‘all these problems’ if that man had been elected. These are the same thing?” [Guardian UK]

• Omar Wasow points out that “using dated language with no bad intent should hardly be grounds for days of media analysis, conscience-stricken mea culpas or organized damage control. And, more importantly, the substance of Reid’s comments is spot on.” [Root]

• Cal Thomas claims that Lott “joked that the country might have been better off had Strom Thurmond been elected president. Don’t look for Harry Reid to resign his post for saying worse.” [Fox Forum/Fox News]

• Alex Balk says “the two remarks are diametrically opposed to each other in import and intent.” [Awl]

• Patricia Murphy doesn’t think Reid will end up like Lott, pointing out that “Republicans failed to defend Lott enough to help him save his job,” especially since George W. Bush wanted to make loyalist Bill Frist majority leader at the time. [Capitolist/Politics Daily]

• Linda Chavez says that Reid’s “actual remarks, while politically incorrect, weren’t racist. If anything, what they suggest is that he believes race matters more to whites than it actually does.” [Corner/National Review]

• Chuck Todd and friends don’t think the comparisons are close. The differences: Reid immediately apologized, Obama immediately backed him, and Reid’s comments were private. [First Read/MSNBC]

• Adam Serwer writes that “the sentiment that being black and light-skinned confers its own kind of privilege is so uncontroversial among black people that it’s banal. Code-switching — changing one’s speech based on racial or class context — is an equally mundane phenomenon.” Reid’s comments aren’t “remotely comparable” to Lott’s and an attempt to make that comparison is “absurd.” [Tapped/American Prospect]

• Cynthia Tucker calls Reid an “insensitive boob,” but “[a]nybody who bothers to think can see the difference between the remarks made by Lott and those made by Reid.” [AJC]

• Paul Mirengoff thinks that while “Reid’s analysis was a bit crude,” it’s likely “that many politicians and pundits made similar sorts of assessments. Even if incorrect, they are not improper, provided one is assessing how others might vote, as opposed to deciding to vote one’s self.” Lott’s comments, on the other hand, “were normative and, if he meant what he said, racist because they implied that segregation was preferable to integration.” [Powerline]

• Josh Marshall believes that what brought down Lott was not just his racist comment, but that it was backed up by a “long history of support for and association with segregationist and white supremacist groups in the South” that could no longer be ignored. [TPM]

• Joan Walsh sarcastically chides: “One guy is talking, perhaps inelegantly, about why he’s whole-heartedly supporting our first black president; the other is wishing the country had elected a racist. That’s exactly the same thing!” [Salon]

• Jonah Goldberg admits that “you could easily make the case that Reid, being a bumbling addlepate, didn’t actually have any racist views in his heart when he said that.” Even so, “the double-standard issue is unavoidable. If any Republican were caught speaking this way about Obama — even in private — liberal cries of racism would be filling the air.” That doesn’t mean we should call Reid a racist, and it’s not a strategy that will help Republicans win elections. [Corner/National Review]

Why Harry Reid Is Just Not the Trent Lott of 2010