Opinion

Reid’s racial rhetoric no slip of the tongue

Tara Wall CNN Political Contributor

Reason number 105,001 Nevada voters need to replace Senator Harry Reid: He still thinks it’s1950 and light-skinned Negroes can pass as long as they check their ghetto dialect at the door. The aging statesman’s racially charged remarks recently revealed in the new book “Game Change,” by journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, may have consumed the cable talk show circuit but whether you agree or disagree that Reid’s remarks are racist is almost irrelevant.

What they reveal is, at the least, the racially insensitive comments are not only inherently dangerous coming from a Senate majority leader in our 21st century society, but further highlight a glaringly blatant double standard that exposes a strong undertone of archaic thinking. Thinking that a majority of Americans agree should be rooted out. Thinking in which white Democrats are consistently given a pass but white Republicans are not. And the kind of thinking Democrats are quick to accuse their political opponents of, yet never seem to denounce with the same level of condemnation within their own ranks (if at all.)

Exhibit A: Virginia Governor and DNC chairman, Tim Kaine. A pitiful excuse for a spokesperson on the subject, Kaine perpetuated the party’s tired line of defense on the Sunday talk shows. He was repeatedly asked to either denounce or at the very least acknowledge how offensive Reid’s remarks were and just could not bring himself to do so. He hemmed and hawed with pat statements about how sorry the senator was, while peppering his comments with his own downright condescension: “It definitely was in the context of recognizing in Senator Obama a great candidate and future president,” Kaine insisted to Chris Wallace. Really? Then why couldn’t Reid have just said that? How hard would it have been for the Senate Majority leader to say, “I think Obama would make a great president,” without further perpetuating black stereotypes? Conflating Reid’s remarks even more, Kaine chose to continue down his asinine road of logic, rather than simply admitting it was a bone-headed thing to say and Reid should be sorry. As a result it set him up to be defined by his counterpart, Michael Steele, when he said Kaine has just “lost all credibility.” He has. It’s no wonder Virginians replaced the out-of-touch term-limited Democrat with a Republican who surely has enough common sense to acknowledge stupidity when he sees it.

Sadly, the rest of Democratic Congressional leadership has continued to follow Kaine’s lead, in full spin mode, clarifying Reid’s words by suggesting that what he said was a “mistake” or that he “misspoke.” Even one network talk show “journalist” (rhymes with metropolis) chimed in and went so far as to characterize Reid’s remarks as “a private conversation.” Excuse me, but aren’t most racial remarks made in private? So, is that the new justification for Democrats to get a pass?

For the sake of argument, supposed it was just a first time “mistake” or slip of the tongue. No such luck for Mr. Reid. As the National Review’s Jonah Goldberg points out, this most recent “mistake” seems to an established pattern:

“His remarks about then-candidate Obama remind me of his offensively dismissive comments about Justice Clarence Thomas from December 2004. Back then Reid called a Thomas an “embarrassment” on the court because “his opinions were poorly written,” yet when asked to support his charge, Reid fell flat, making patently false claims about Thomas’ opinions.”

One time maybe, this time it’s a behavioral pattern with Reid. A bubbling undercurrent that’s come up to the surface with regularity. While Goldberg makes a valid point to warn Republican politicians against falling into hypocrisy by making this an issue “solely in the spirit of payback,” there are bigger questions to be addressed in my view. Just who is the arbiter of what the standard for racism/racial insensitivity is and is why there one standard for some but not others?

These are questions that never seem to get answered with each new round of racial finger pointing between the political parties. The only absolute that is clear here is that there is a double standard, this most recent revelation further confirms it and once again the black civil rights elite have given White Democrats a pass for matters in which they’ve demanded Republican resignations and worse. Even more obvious to me is the revelation of how much more racially insensitive Democrats have been during the 2008 presidential campaign than Republicans. From Harry Reid, Joe Biden to Bill Clinton—they’ve all been caught with their hand in the racial cookie jar. And they’ve all been given a pass. Republicans are right to push back and should not let Reid off the hook.

For Reid’s part, he has apologized and already “moved on.” But was it because he was truly sorry or because he got caught? My guess is the latter and so it is no wonder he wants to try and forget about it. Yet still, the Congressional Black Caucus, NAACP and the ever effusive Rev. Al Sharpton quickly came to his defense without an iota of disappointment—claiming that black people aren’t offended. As a black woman, I beg to differ. They certainly don’t speak for me.

Reid has a “long record of addressing African-American issues,” one liberal lawmaker explained. So as long as White Democrats are doing stuff for black people it’s okay to stereotype black them? Would that have been acceptable for Trent Lott, assuming he didn’t do anything for black people (whatever that is supposed to mean)? This is especially paramount since it was Reid, who in 2002, called then Senate leader Trent Lott’s controversial birthday comments to Strom Thurmond “repugnant.” Republicans have only asked for the same standard by which Lott was judged, to apply. Democrats not only gave Reid another racial pass, but can’t even seem to bring themselves to say anything about the tone of his remarks—other than “he’s sorry.” I’m sorry too. Sorry that if there is no better way for Senator Reid to articulate his support for a black presidential contender than to characterize him as “light-skinned” with “no Negro dialect”—it’s clear that Reid is not only out of touch with mainstream America but with his own constituency where minorities make up over 40 percent of Nevada’s population.

The Senate may not retire Mr. Reid, but voters in Nevada should. And in doing so, banish his brand of racial neutrality, with a much more “progressive” candidate.

After all, it was Reid’s Democratic colleague, John Kerry who said of Lott: “I simply do not believe the country can today afford to have someone who has made these statements again and again be the leader of the United States Senate.”

Tara Wall is a conservative columnist, former Deputy Editor for the Washington Times and CNN Political Contributor.