By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

A single standard

This Associated Press story is a good example of the mindless way in which Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s stupid remarks about President Obama and race are being compared to those of Trent Lott in 2002. Lott was forced to step down as Senate majority leader after he endorsed Strom Thurmond’s segregationist presidential campaign 54 years after the fact.

Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, calls it “a clear double standard” if Democrats do not remove Reid. Good grief.

The difference, plain enough to anyone who wants to engage his or her brain: Reid, though his words were awkward and racially insensitive, was expressing his enthusiasm that an African-American might be elected president. Reid said Obama was electable because he was a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Reid’s words were unfortunate, to say the least. But Lott, who had long been active in racist politics back home in Mississippi, was essentially saying it was a damn shame those blacks were ever allowed to drink from the non-colored water fountain. Here’s what Lott said at Thurmond’s 100th-birthday party:

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.

There’s really no comparison, and sensible people of all ideological stripes know that. Check out how conservative pundit George Will put Lynne Liz Cheney in her place on ABC’s “This Week” after Cheney claimed Reid’s words were “racist”:

WILL: I don’t think there’s a scintilla of racism in what Harry Reid said.  At long last, Harry Reid has said something that no one can disagree with, and he gets in trouble for it.

CHENEY: George, give me a break.  I mean, talking about the color of the president’s skin …

WILL: Did he get it wrong?

CHENEY:  … and the candidate’s …

WILL: Did he say anything false?

CHENEY:  … it’s — these are clearly racist comments, George.

WILL:  Oh, my, no.

Indeed. Oh, my. No. Despite Reid’s idiotic choice of words, this remains a racially charged society, and his analysis — as Will noted — happened to be exactly correct.

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  1. t-traveler

    think its liz cheney not lynne

  2. Newshound

    What a can of worms. Senator Reid was revealing his political insightfulness about the prospects of Obama being successful in his bid for the presidency based on his perception of how some voters would respond. It was not a disclosure of how he personally would respond when voting himself, or that color would even enter into any part of his personal decision.

    Candidates obviously need to gather votes and it would be naive to think that there are not a few people who would not vote for a person simply because they are black, and conversely, some who would choose a black over white and then again, the appeal of someone who has one white parent and one black parent.

    For many of us fortunately, the qualities of a candidate are judged on issues and substance without the silliness of color, but that is not how it works in the big, wild world of politics whereby any voter can pick and choose for any reason whatsoever.

    We are not in a racist society. But, there are racists in our society and those views need to be considered when harvesting votes.

  3. Dunque

    What I find amazing is that former President Clinton’s reported remarks to Senator Kennedy re: candidate Obama are being ignored in the re-telling of the Reid remarks.

    I am no Harry Reid lover and there clearly is no position from which former President Clinton can be asked to resign but if you are looking for racism those remarks are clearly offensive and racist.

    Talk about “true colors.”

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Dunque: I don’t think the Reid remarks became a story until he confirmed they were accurate. I’m sure someone is trying to get a comment from Clinton’s office. You know what, though? There are a lot of crazy things in that book — even I don’t believe half the stuff they’ve got about Palin. And I thought the quotes attributed to Bill Clinton seemed pretty damn unlikely. All the lowlights are here.

  4. Steve Stein

    Josh says it best: “Talking about racism does not make you racist; advocating racism does.”

    Of course, that won’t matter to the All Outrage All The Time Republicans. They have found, by the media-fueled reaction to Outrage August, that Outrage works.

    Count on More Outrage to come!

  5. Dunque

    I don’t know, Dan. For Senator Kennedy to have turned his back on the Clintons I’ve always thought there must have been some triggering event beyond the Senator’s admiration of Senator Obama as a person. For all his faults loyalty was an important attribute of Senator Kennedy.

    You are, after all, talking about a guy who bragged about his astro-turfed El Camino. In other words, a product of his place. I can definitely hear him making that kind of throwaway remark.

  6. Harrybosch

    “There are a lot of crazy things in that book — even I don’t believe half the stuff they’ve got about Palin.”

    I’m not so sure about that. I wouldn’t have believed Reid would have said those things either, if he hadn’t already confirmed it. So I’m leaning toward believing the Palin stuff too.

    Wasn’t her resignation nothing less than a public nervous breakdown?

    In term’s of Clinton’s remark (which I hadn’t heard and just looked up), he was talking, no doubt, about Obama’s relative youth and (I suspect) not his race.

    Clinton is a lot of things, but racist ain’t one of them.

  7. mike_b1

    Even if Clinton did say of Obama that “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee,” it could well have been a nod to Obama’s relative youth and inexperience, not his skin tone.

    Next crisis, please.

  8. Dunque

    You have got to be kidding me if you think Clinton’s remark was about youth. Or you are so solt out to your political viewpoint you can’t acknowledge the obvious reality.

    Especially from mike_b1 who finds anti-semitism in any criticism of Theo Esptein. To not find racism in that statement well, as I said, you’ve sold out your supposed principles.

  9. Harrybosch

    “Or you are so solt out to your political viewpoint you can’t acknowledge the obvious reality.”

    I’m a conservative Republican who calls ’em as he sees ’em.

    Clinton has a long record in and out of politics, and has never revealed himself to be a racist.

    Seems I remember too some folks referring to him as “the first black president” with nary a hint of irony.

    But one of us does indeed appear to be enslaved to his political viewpoint.

  10. I think most Republicans, like myself, would be happy to give Senator Reid a pass on this one. Well back the bus up, but in return, Dems/Libs/Progs must drop the stereotype that Republicans are racist. It’s stupid.

    Put a muzzle on Garafalo, and her “this is about hating a black man in the White House. This is racism straight up.” and we’ll give Harry Reid and his Negro dialect a pass.

  11. O-FISH-L

    The word negro has been considered an ethnic slur since the 1960’s, so using that term is bad enough. Yet, Reid’s suggestion that an African American is electable because he doesn’t look or talk like other blacks is most offensive. Those aren’t off-the-cuff remarks, but evidence of a deep bias.

    Rush Limbaugh was tossed off of NFL coverage for merely suggesting that a black quarterback was overrated. Reid should be tossed out of the Senate, a much more important job, since his ignorant statements are far worse.

    I almost feel sorry for Martha Coakley’s timing. From the health care disaster to coddling of terrorists to the “nothing to see here” reaction to Reid’s dreadful comments, the national Democrat party is really repulsive right now, even in deep blue Massachusetts. Coakley should be asked if she thinks Reid should resign.

  12. Dunque

    “I’m a conservative Republican who calls ‘em as he sees ‘em.”

    And the web anonymity to prove it.

  13. Harrybosch

    “And the web anonymity to prove it.”

    Hilarious . . . Dunque.

    I gotta somehow “prove” my Republican credentials, now?

    Gonna be a very lonely party once folks like you get through with it.

    But folks like me will continue to try to stop you.

  14. tunder

    “And the web anonymity to prove it.” Well played “Dunque.”

    I agree with o-Fish that the use of “negro” was, at the very least, bizarre in this time and age. However, calling Reid and the Democrats “repulsive” and “coddling terrorists” is heading into Kool-Aid territory.

  15. Dunque

    Tunder – Good job not getting it. If the thunder don’t get you, maybe the enlightening will.

    When someone claims that their opinion has more validity because of an absolutely unverifiable affiliation they deserve to be called out on it.

    I can say I worked I registered voters in Misssissipi in the 1960’s but still find former President Clinton’s statements abhorrent. Or I can just state that I find former President Clinton’s statements abhorrent.

    I’m not bolstering my opinions by claiming some affiliation that somehow, because of a perception that the affiliation should drive one opinion but instead offering another, gives more validity to that opinion. I’m just saying…that’s my opinion.

  16. mike_b1

    @Dunque: I guess I’m glad we have you around to be outraged on our behalf. Clinton’s best friend is black. He surrounded himself with blacks. He even located his office in Harlem. And all this time, he was David Duke with a saxaphone. What a trick he pulled on all of us!

  17. mike_b1

    @Fish: Rush Limbaugh was fired from MFL because what he said was racist. And then, someone went and dug up all the other racist things he said publicly:

    Such as:

    “Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it.”


    “The NAACP should have riot rehearsal. They should get a liquor store and practice robberies.”


    [To an African American female caller]: “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.”


    “Barack the Magic Negro” (that was the song he played repeatedly on the air).


    “So you go into Darfur and you go into South Africa, you get rid of the white government there. You put sanctions on them. You stand behind Nelson Mandela — who was bankrolled by communists for a time, had the support of certain communist leaders. You go to Ethiopia. You do the same thing.”


    “We need segregated buses… This is Obama’s America.”


    “Let the unskilled jobs that take absolutely no knowledge whatsoever to do — let stupid and unskilled Mexicans do that work.”

    Need I go on?

  18. Harrybosch

    “When someone claims that their opinion has more validity because of an absolutely unverifiable affiliation they deserve to be called out on it.”

    Bad things happen when you start from a false premise.

    Nobody claimed that their opinion was more valid than anybody elses.

    “I’m just saying…that’s my opinion.”

    No, you said that your opinion was “obvious reality,” and dismissed others who did not share your opinion of having “[solt] out to [their] political viewpoint.”

    Happy to see you acknowledge the opinions of others may be just as based in reality as your own, though.

  19. Newshound

    Fish – I think trying to find fault to such an extent with Senator Reid is a lot of hullabaloo. The president dismissed it in a very eloquent manner. I agree, not because he is president, but because of the way he summarized it so well and dismissed it.

    And, Fish: I don’t feel sorry for Coakley. She is more than 90% hullabaloo.

  20. tunder

    “Good job not getting it. If the thunder don’t get you, maybe the enlightening will.”

    Not getting it? I didn’t see anything in HarryBosch’s comment that declared that his opinion was “more valid” than anyone else’s. I was just amused at your sarcasm around anonymity and then using Dunque as your anonymous moniker.

  21. I tend to agree with the Democrats here. Reid was saying that Obama was electable because of his lighter skin and his educated accent.

    It’s true. It’s sad, and has probably been simmering on the backburner of alot of political junkies’ minds (too afraid to say it), but it’s true.

    And that’s the tragedy. Not that Reid said it, but that it’s true.

  22. O-FISH-L

    Mr._b-1: According to, the more egregious quotes that you attribute to Mr. Limbaugh cannot be sourced. Need I remind you of the myriad media outlets forced to embarrassingly apologize to Limbaugh last year for doing the same thing you’ve done here.

    Limbaugh’s been on the air for 15 hours a week for 30+ years, is this really all you’ve got?

    As for Barack the Magic Negro, I’m confused at what your point might be. Is “negro” racist when Limbaugh says it but not when Reid says it? Or is it only racist when put to music? Do explain.

    • Dan Kennedy

      @Fish: The “more egregious quotes”? The worst thing ever attributed to him was telling a caller he assumed to be black that she should hang up and call him back after she got the bone out of her nose. And that’s been confirmed.

      Good grief. Words are words and intent is intent. Reid’s intent was clear enough. So is Limbaugh’s, over and over.

  23. Dan Storms

    All I need to know is that Mark Halperin is involved. A more useless and awful an excuse for a journalist does not exist outside of Matt Drudge’s basement. My understanding that the book is a compendium of often single, often anonymously attributed sources, quotes apparently made up out of whole cloth or at least threadbare, and snarky innuendo.

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