The ridiculous Reid affair
Harry Reid is now in trouble for noting that Barack Obama (1) is a light skinned black and (2) does not have a typical American black accent (unless he’s speaking in front of a black crowd).
These things are obviously true. Yet no major conservative writer or commentator has written or said anything defending Reid from the ridiculous charge that his comments were racist. Instead, we get a bunch of chest-pounding from the right that they were the ones who led the charge to destroy Trent Lott, together with the usual complaints about double standards.
If the truth is no defense, then we do not any longer live in a free country, period. And if there is no political party or movement in this country willing to defend that principle, then we are already very far gone.
When public men are making statements that are devoid of any sense, the amount of work needed to try to make sense of them is more than it’s worth. Are the Republicans saying that Reid’s statement is objectionable because Reid described Obama as “light-skinned” and as having “no Negro dialect,” or because he said that his being light-skinned and having no Negro dialect would enable him to win the presidency? It’s not clear. No one gives reasons. We live in the cave below Plato’s cave, where there’s not even a simulacrum of sense.
- end of initial entry -
I think for the Republicans it’s come down to pure tit for tat, without any principle involved at all. “You got Lott (or, rather, we willingly sacrificed Lott), and now we’re going to extract our pound of flesh from Reid.” But the two cases are not at all alike.
Lott didn’t go down just for his clunker of a statement (a clunker in the political context of 2002 America) that a Strom Thurmond presidency would have been good for America, but because of his tone deaf initial responses to the situation which got him deeper and deeper in hot water, followed by his desperate turnabout and disgusting self-abasement before blacks, promising them everything under the sun. As I wrote at the time, he could have dispensed with the problem the first day with a simple statement of clarification that he didn’t believe in segregation, that nothing in his career showed that he was for segregation. But he was too insensible to do so. So he showed himself to be, first, a political incompetent, then, second, a desperate whore who would take any leftist position to appease blacks, which in my view was why he had to step down as leader. (See my old entries on Lott below.)
As for the substance of the Reid issue, what has Reid said that violated today’s ruling liberal standards (and let us remember that in this case it’s the Republicans who are presenting themselves as the enforcers of liberal standards)?
Liberals have always said that America is racist, and therefore electing a black president was a historic step toward being non-racist or at least less racist. But since the underlying assumption is that America is racist, naturally the first black to get elected president would need not to set off America’s racist alarms too much. So Reid’s statement, from a liberal point of view, is simply a realistic acknowledgment that in racist America, the first black president would need to be not too black.
But the Republicans, in not accepting Reid’s statement in that way, are becoming super PC and saying, “If you even imply (even in a private conversation) that a candidate’s racial characteristics will have an effect on whether he will be able to win the presidency, and that such a consideration should be treated as legitimate in making political calculations on whether a candidacy is viable or not, that is a racist statement that has disqualified you from a position of leadership in our society.”
So those are the two ways of seeing it: (1) that Republicans are trying to get back at the Democrats, using the same whip on them that Democrats readily use on Republicans, which would be unprincipled but at least understandable; or (2) that Republicans are more PC than even the Democrats, which was also the case in the Lott affair.
Either way, the Republican behavior, backed up by conservatives columnists, is deeply dispiriting and disgusting.
For some background, here are excepts from three VFR entries on the Lott affair in December 2002:
Here is an entry by me on December 18, 2002:
Everyone by now has presumably heard or read Trent Lott’s incredible interview on Black Entertainment Television. Exactly like a university or corporation that responds to a hyped-up charge of racism by promising vast new racial preferences and diversity-sensivity programs, Lott is trying to make up for his offense against black people by promising to spend the rest of his political life giving them everything they want. If he continues as GOP Senate leader the Republicans will have the worst of both worlds—a leader whom the Left will keep attacking as a racist even as he keeps calling himself one.
Here is an entry by me on December 19, 2002:
Is segregationism “bigotry”?
And here is my entry by me on December 21, 2002 (it’s followed by a long discussion):
The most worrisome thing about the Trent Lott affair is the adoption by almost every mainstream conservative commentator of the politically correct assumption that Lott’s statements indicate that he is a “bigot,” though the commentator then hastens to add that he doesn’t personally believe that Lott actually is one. I received today a column by Deroy Murdock that used similar language (though lacking the exculpatory caveat), and replied to him as follows:
If you wanted to say that a belief in racial segregation is problematic for a leader of today’s Republican party, I would agree with you. But I disagree that your quotes from Lott’s past career show, as you put it, a “vivid pattern of racial animus” against blacks. One could believe in segregation (assuming Lott believed in it) without having animus. Preferring not to associate with certain individuals or groups (and all of us have such preferences) is not necessarily the same as having an “animus” toward them, in the sense that one would say untrue damaging things against them or treat them unjustly or hurt them or support other people who were hurting them and so on.
And what is true on an individual or social level is also true on the political level. For example, I think Muslims do not belong in Western countries in any large numbers because Islam is inherently incompatible with Western society. I think it is a fatal mistake for us to bring them in. In fact, I am outspoken about this. Does that mean I have an “animus” against Muslims? Does it make me a bigot? Does it mean I want to hurt Muslims or put them down or treat them unjustly? No. It means I believe in my own civilization and don’t want it to be ruined. The assertion that Islam is incompatible with the West is either true or false. But even if it’s false, I wouldn’t be bigoted for believing it, unless I willfully ignored contrary evidence.
You share with many conservatives and libertarians the false liberal assumption that being non-liberal on race and ethnicity (“liberal” here meaning the belief that there are no group differences that matter in any publicly important sense) is the same as being a “bigot.” Read Eric Fettman’s extraordinarily interesting column in today’s New York Post. In 1947 South Carolina’s segregationist governor Strom Thurmond was praised by the New York Times as a racial moderate who had taken active (and, it turned out, totally successful) steps to stop lynchings in his state, including the first-ever prosecution of whites for the murder of a black in South Carolina’s history. Clearly the liberal Times in 1947 did not support racial segregation. Yet it didn’t fall into the politically correct trap that today’s conservatives have fallen into, of saying that support for segregation presumptively equals “bigotry.”
First Lott, now the whole GOP
[end of VFR excerpts on Lott]
My warnings about the danger of using inexact condemnatory language such as “bigot” and “racist” in discussing Trent Lott’s retroactive endorsement of Strom Thurmond’s presidential candidacy have been borne out in spades. As I argued, what the conservatives should have done was to criticize Lott for his apparent, though probably unintentional, support of segregation, a charge which has a specific and objective meaning and which Lott could easily have defended himself from, since he has done nothing in his 30-year Congressional career to bring back segregation. Instead, the conservatives indicted him for his supposed “bigotry” and “racism,” charges that are not so easy to fend off since they denote something that is both inexact and totally evil. Suffused in the righteous desire to save their party from the taint of “racism,” Lott’s conservative critics seemed not to realize that in contemporary liberal parlance, “racism” means any failure to support any aspect of the liberal agenda on race.
Lott himself, like a slow-witted bull being led to sacrifice, comprehended none of this. All he could grasp was that the charge of racism that had been made against him was in some sense limitless; and therefore he felt that he could only clear himself of it by abandoning every conservative position on race he had ever held and embracing every liberal position on race that was mentioned to him: affirmative action, the King holiday, symbolic obeisances to black sensitivity, you name it. As one wag put it, if Lott’s Henry II-like round of apologies had gone on any longer, he would have joined Al Sharpton’s organization and come out for race reparations.
The main point, however, is that the damage goes way beyond Lott. The conservatives’ incantations of liberal smear language not only helped destroy Lott personally, but handed to the liberals a weapon with which they can smear the entire Republican party. Everywhere you look today, liberals are in a victorious war dance, trumpeting—without a hint of factual or logical support—the supposed discovery that the modern Republican party, as typified by Lott, is really “racist.” There is scant reason to believe that his fellow Republicans will handle the charge any better than Lott himself did.
Tim W. writes:
Rush Limbaugh is going crazy over this today. He’s talking about producing a parody called “When Harry Met Robert” in which Harry Reid pals around with klansman Robert Byrd. His entire opening monologue was about how racist white Democrats are. He said jokingly that some of Reid’s relatives may have appeared in Birth of a Nation.
He’s very much on the wrong track on this. Conservatives should respond to this situation by noting that what Reid said was inoffensive, and by announcing that Republicans in the past have been ruined for making equally inoffensive remarks. They should then draw a line in the sand and say they’ll no longer allow their members to be run out of town on a rail every time a protected group takes offense at something.
Next, they should zero in on the ugly race hustlers such as Sharpton who are allowed by the media to serve as judge and jury over white conservatives. Sharpton’s record on racial harmony is disgusting and the GOP should say so. [LA replies: by the way, last week the New York Post published an op-ed column—by Al Sharpton. The Post’s bete noir for the last 20 years—and now they publish him on their op-ed page. This is worse than Bush having Sharpton to the White House. It’s hard to take in. I haven’t gotten around to writing about it. It’s enough to make me walk away and go live in Alaska or something.]
Yes, there is a double standard, as Limbaugh is noting on the air today. A Republican would be history if he said what Reid said, while Reid will certainly survive it. But the double standard is the GOP’s own fault. They rush to punish their own members the moment one is caught in some silly controversy such as this. They refuse to take on black racism, such as that of Obama’s pastor. All they’re left with is screaming that there’s a double standard when a Democrat says something un-PC and gets away with it. The Dems will shrug it off, and still be ready to pounce with venom if a GOP candidate somewhere uses the word “colored” in an off-the-cuff remark. And if that happens, the GOP will immediately demand the candidate’s withdrawal, meaning the double standard will continue.
Daniel B. writes:
Concerning Reid’s cultural faux pas, I’ve actually talked to a number of people who primarily take offense of his use of the word “negro” which apparently is now politically incorrect in and of itself (As per this )
Ironically, MLK in his “I Have a Dream” used the word “negro” 15 times while using the word “black” four times. I guess the times, they are a-changing.
They done changed by 1965. You’re 45 years behind the changing times on this one.
Except that “Negro” has come back! Amazingly it’s being used as a racial identifier, along with “black” and “African-American” on the 2010 U.S. Census. And the Census Bureau is defending it on the basis that in past censuses, a significant number of blacks preferred to be called Negro. I’m astonished by this. In any case, if “Negro” is in the U.S. Census, it’s ok to use it.
Mark Jaws writes:
This sorry little episode shows how courageously bankrupt the current crop of Republicans are. GOP “leaders” could have seized the moment and said, “We find it amusing that Democrats are upset with Harry Reid’s one time slip of the lip, but that they have no problem with their having elected a man who sat for 20 years in a church headed by a white-hating lunatic, and which conferred upon the white-hating Louis Farakkan a lifetime achievement award.”
Now that the aura of the 2008 campaign is fast fading and reality has set in, the public is much more receptive in dissecting Obama and tearing him down. But in order to smell blood, you have to first draw blood. Something which the cowardly lion refuses to do with respect to blacks. In contemporary American political warfare the Democrats come to battle armed with knives, guns, clubs, and hanging rope, while Republicans come dressed like Buster Brown and carrying tiddlywinks.
Ken Hechtman writes:
You’re right that this is ridiculous. Barack Obama is the president of the United States, the “most powerful man in the world” as the saying goes. He is quite literally the last person on earth who needs to worry about people saying unkind or insensitive things about him or have anybody else worry on his behalf. Any claim he might have had to being an oppressed minority pretty much went out the window once they gave him the nuclear launch codes.
That said, I think you’re missing what was insulting about Harry Reid’s comment. It was the implication that it’s somehow exceptional and surprising that a black candidate has the ability to speak standard English. It’s also a true statement to say that I can tie my own shoes, but if someone made a point of saying it in public with a surprised tone—I’d take it as an insult.
By “dialect,” Reid didn’t really mean speaking standard English. He meant pronunciation. Obama does not have a black pronunciation. Many black politicians do.
New York Governor Al Smith who ran for President in 1928 had a very “New Yawk” accent and personality. He was way too parochial New York, too “ethnic,” to be elected president of the U.S. Reid was saying that an “ethnically” black could not be elected president, but that a black with standard pronunciation could be. Which was simply true. Nothing insulting about pointing that out.
Matthew H. writes:
Here is my blog post on this.
The use of certain words is now seen as a virtual violation of the Geneva Convention. So in America today, porn is protected speech and actual speech is a sort of war crime.
Jim C. writes:
George Will defends Reid against racism charge.
Jim C. writes:
Two cheers for Harry Reid
There are two important deductions one could draw surrounding what Reid was “really” communicating:
(1) by labeling Obama a Negro he was averring that Obama is just another articulate black empty suit—a product of the affirmative action economy
2) let’s make sure the empty suit has no real power. Let’s face it, the healthcare bill belongs to Reid and Pelosi, not Obama.
Bottom line, I think Reid was telegraphing his disdain for Obama. Thatta boy, Harry—couldn’t agree with you more
Jim C. writes:
The Telegraph on Reid, good article.
Posted by Lawrence Auster at January 11, 2010 12:13 PM | Send