Monday, January 11, 2010

Harry Chastened

The revelations from a new book on the 2008 campaign, "Game Change" by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, have been the talk of Washington, including a now-infamous tidbit about Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada having declared that Barack Obama was a plausible candidate for President because he was "light-skinned" black man who chose not to speak in the "Negro dialect." An embarrassed Reid apologized to President Obama for his remarks, and Obama accepted the apology, but Republicans have called for Reid to resign,. just like Senate Republican leader Trent Lott of Mississippi did when he lamented that noted segregationist Strom Thurmond wasn't elected President in 1948 . . . and the country would have been spared a lot of "problems" if Thurmond had made it to the White House.
Gee, were black Republicans - all five of them - that offended by Reid's remarks?
Comparing to Reid's comments to Lott's is comparing apples and spinach. Reid was expressing, however inarticulately, how Obama's personal qualities made him attractive to white voters who most likely would not have considered a black presidential candidate otherwise. Lott pretty much said that segregation forever -Thurmond's 1948 campaign slogan - was a desirable goal. The truth of the matter - and a political gaffe always occurs when a politician tells the truth - was that Obama was more like Will Smith than Jay-Z. As for Reid, his civil rights record and his record on social programs that benefit blacks is as commendable as Lott's is not. In fact, Reid was one of the first people to see Obama as a potential presidential candidate.
And regarding the use of the word "Negro" . . . . While you can argue that broken ghetto English isn't necessarily a "Negro dialect," I'm, still having trouble with the idea that there's any pejorative in the word "Negro." Martin Luther King used it himself: "The Negro is an American." It's an anthropological term, just like "Caucasian," and while blacks are a bit uneasy with the use of the word "Negro" on census forms, I, a Caucasian, am not offended when I see that word used in place of "white" on Internet forms, which has happened.
But enough about that. How about this? If Harry Reid had said Rudolph Giuliani had a plausible chance of becoming the first U.S. President of Italian origin because he wasn't short or swarthy-looking and didn't speak in the Italian-American dialect (saying "quandemose" instead of "big deal," "stunade" in place of "stupid person") and didn't gesture with his hands while saying words like "metagon" (meaning "whitebread American"), would we be having this conversation? Would we have been having it during a Giuliani Presidency?
I think I've made my point. Now can we please talk about something else, like the other tidbits in this new book? More of that later.

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