A juicy account of the 2008 presidential race is generating lots of controversy and could spell political trouble for Harry Reid. According to the book by journalists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin titled "Game Change", the Senate Majority Leader made remarks in private about Barack Obama's racial appeal, saying 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". The book goes on to say that Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.
When the book passage was publicized on Saturday, Reid apologized and Obama accepted. However some have cried foul, including RNC chairman Michael Steele. On the 1/10/10 edition of Meet the Press, Steele called the president's apology acceptance a double standard, citing the reaction to the 2002 incident in which then-Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott said the following at the 100th birthday celebration for Sen. Strom Thurmond:
"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."
According to a 12/11/02 article in the Washington Post, Lott made similar comments in 1980 about Thurmond's candidacy. As you may know, Thurmond ran for POTUS in 1948 on the Dixiecrat ticket and largely based his campaign on a racial segregationist platform. According to an interview published in the 12/12/02 issue of The Chicago Defender, then-state senator Obama said that Lott ought to be ousted as majority leader. Lott later apologized and issued a statement saying, "My comments were not an endorsement of his positions of over 50 years ago, but of the man and his life." In the wake of the controversy, Lott resigned as Senate Republican Leader on 12/22/02.
During his appearance on Meet the Press, Steele added that when Democrats get caught saying racist things, an apology is enough. He went on to say that if the standard is the one that was set in 2002 with Trent Lott, then Reid should step down as Senate Majority Leader. You can read the full transcript of the 1/10/10 edition of Meet the Press here.
I think the comparison of Harry Reid's comments about Barack Obama to what Trent Lott said regarding Strom Thurmond is pretty weak. I don't feel Reid was saying it was wrong or right that a black presidential candidate with the qualities of Obama had a better chance at being elected. The term "Negro dialect" is questionable, but in my eyes, Reid was being a political realist. Ask yourself this. What would Barack Obama's chances of becoming POTUS had been if he was dark skinned and spoke like J.J. Evans? On the other hand, Lott's remarks seemed to validate Strom Thurmond's stance on segregation. Although Thurmond's views on race changed over the years (including support of the extension of The Voting Rights Act and being the first Southern senator to appoint a black aide), Lott never made the distinction between Thurmond circa 1948 and Thurmond post-1964.
What are your thoughts?