Mike Allen and Jake Sherman write at Politico that Democrats are fighting to “save Harry Reid’s political career” by contrasting his record on civil rights and racial issues with that of leading Republicans.
These moves to turn the race issue back onto Republicans is [sic] risky, yet it shows how Reid and his allies are ready to pull out all the stops to help the majority leader recover from his disastrous comments about Barack Obama being “light-skinned” and having no “Negro dialect.”
As opposed, Allen and Sherwin continue, to the way Republicans “quickly abandoned” Trent Lott when he made his “nostalgic remark about the segregationist Dixiecrat presidential run of Strom Thurmond.”
And those Republicans are usually so great at sticking together! But there is an explanation for this mysterious difference: Trent Lott’s remark was so blatantly racist that Republicans knew they couldn’t be seen as supporting it, no matter what they may have thought privately. Harry Reid’s remark was clumsily expressed, using racially archaic language that some African Americans might find offensive or insensitive today, but it did not contain the white supremacist subtext that Lott’s statement clearly did.
TMV’s Dalitso Njinjo has already written a post along these lines, and today Ta-Nehisi Coates has similar thoughts to share on his Atlantic.com blog. Quoting John Cornyn’s public statement calling for Sen. Reid to “step down as majority leader,” Coates writes:
I think you can grant that, in this era, the term “Negro dialect” is racially insensitive and embarrassing. That said, the fair-mind[ed] listener understands the argument–Barack Obama’s complexion and his ability to code-switch is an asset. You can quibble about the “light skin” part, but forget running for president, code-switching is the standard M.O. for any African American with middle class aspirations.
But there’s no such defense for Trent Lott. Lott celebrated apartheid Mississippi’s support of Strom Thurmond, and then said that had Thurmond won, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.” Strom Thurmond run for president, specifically because he opposed Harry Truman’s efforts at integration. This is not mere conjecture–nearly half of Thurmond’s platform was dedicated to preserving segregation. The Dixiecrat slogan was “Segregation Forever!” (Exclamation point, theirs.) Trent Lott’s wasn’t forced to resign because he said something “racially insensitive.” He was forced to resign because he offered tacit endorsement of white supremacy–frequently.
Firedoglake’s Blue Texan says the same thing in somewhat pithier terms.
Best for last: Greg Sargent reports that it looks like Harry Reid made those “private” remarks to… the authors of the book in which they are quoted:
Could Harry Reid himself be the source for the explosive anecdote about his racially charged comments — ones that have created the biggest mess of his political lifetime?
Yep. Reid himself is the source of the anecdote, the Majority Leader’s office confirms. And this raises a bunch of questions about what happened here.
The authors’ note at the beginning of Game Change, the book about Campaign 2008 by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, states clearly that any comments that appear “within quotation marks” come from “the speaker himself, someone who was present and heard the remark, contemporaneous notes, or transcripts.”
The quote is within quotation marks. From page 36, about Reid:
He was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and 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,” as he later put it privately.
Reid’s office confirms that Reid himself was the source of the anecdote to the reporters. His office declined to elaborate. But it looks as if Reid used the language to one of the reporters in some way or other.
The authors’ note further specifies that “all our interviews” were conducted on a “deep background” basis. So it looks like Reid used this language in an interview on deep background. That must be what the reporters mean when they say Reid said this stuff “privately.”