Sen Reid, The Word Negro and Racial Politics

January 11, 2010

(ChattahBox)— The sensitive issue of race in America has again, come to the forefront of our national discourse this week. And Republicans are trying their hardest to make political hay out of the issue. With our first black president in office, Barack Obama, we patted ourselves on our collective backs, as a nation and wondered if his election by an overwhelming majority singled that racism was over in America. Well, not so much. We have come a long way towards racial equality in America and we can point to President Obama, as proof of that. On the other hand, while his election has brought us together as a people, at the same time it has reawakened ugly racism racism in our country. Anti-Obama tea party protesters took to the streets with bigoted and racist signs and billboards soon after he was elected, screeching about the deficit, taxes and runaway government spending. But they were strangely silent during the Bush years about these issues.

Against this backdrop, we learned this week that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) spoke privately to a reporter in 2006 in praise of then-Senator Obama, while handicapping his chances at a 2008 presidential run. He believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama — a ‘light-skinned’ African American ‘with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,’” said Reid. Yes, Reid used the inappropriate word Negro and he raised the issue of skin color. He also has a solid legislative record on civil rights. Former Sen. Trent Lott (R-MS), who was forced to give up his Senate leadership, after making a racist statement in 2002, had a solid anti-civil rights voting record and a long history of associations with white supremacists and racial segregationists. There is no meaningful comparison between the two men. And for Republicans to say so are being disingenuous and trying to score a partisan shot.

After Reid’s comments were published in the new gossipy political tome, “Game Change,” by Time’s Mark Halperin and New York magazine’s John Heilemann, Republicans, like RNC Chairman Michale Steele and Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) called for Reid to step down as Senate leader, arguing that Trent Lott lost his leadership for similar remarks. And Cornyn, even took the argument one step further this morning on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, saying that Reid’s statements were actually worse than what Lott said.

What did Lott say to fall from grace? Lott said in a televised tribute to Sen. Strom Thurmond for his 100th birthday: “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.” Thurmond ran for president in 1948 on a platform of racial segregation, saying “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.” Lott was condoning, approving and supporting ugly racism and racial segregation. He also had a membership in the Council of Conservative Citizens and publicly praised Jefferson Davis.

Lott’s voting record was a testament to racism. As a Congressman, he voted against renewal of the Voting Rights Act, voted against the continuation of the Civil Rights Act and opposed making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a federal holiday.

According to Cornyn, Lott’s racist history and statement praising racial segregation was “innocuous,” compared to Reid’s use of the antiquated term Negro, in praising Obama. Reid made the error of using an old-timey and ridiculous term while talking about a black man, but it was not used with bad intent or in a mean spirited way.

According to Steve Benen of the Political Animal: “Here’s a radical thought: if John Cornyn thinks support for a white-supremacist, segregationist platform is “innocuous,” maybe he should resign.”

Today, President Obama described Reid “as a good man who has always been on the right side of history.”


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