Senate majority leader Harry Reid has a lot of image problems, he comes off as cold, when he is actually very passionate about his liberal views, he’s mild-mannered and that is viewed as smarmy, he wears ugly suits.
Not helping last week are revelations of quotes from Reid in the new political potboiler bestseller ‘Game Change’ about the backstage dramas of the 2008 election. He is quoted as saying President Obama’s Presidential chances are good because candidate Obama has light skin and uses “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”
After the story broke, to the glee of Republicans, Reid issued his mea culpa- “I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words.” Well, he should be because, as it is contextualized, there are so many things wrong with his words and their implications. On the face of it, it seems like he is looking past Obama’s political talent and suggesting that his looks are more important than his ability to be president.
Then there is the negative connotations in a broad reference to African American dialects and syntax. Even if Reid was absent during the 90s debate on the existence or nonexistence of Ebonics, African American and Black as terms are on the national cultural hard- drive for a couple of generations. Get with it Harry. The phrase ‘Negro dialect’ is just unseemly in any context outside of a revival of Uncle Tom’s Cabin or a discussion of Huckleberry Finn.’
Reid’s comments may or may not be tainted with racism, but he should check himself to find out if there is some personal hubris lurking. But, the comments could just have been a crass observation of the political realities in America.
And in fact after a weekend of Reid bashing, the conversation has moved to that point. They could in fact be completely innocent reaction to the image component of what of what a black candidate is dealing with running for president. So inadvertent possibly that even George Will barked back on This Week, “Finally, Harry Reid says something no one can argue with.”
Will, blustered at Liz Cheney’s accusations of a Democratic double standard and that Reid was showing his true colors behind closed doors. She went on to say that that might be the way liberals talk in private and that her political camp doesn’t. A stretch to say the least. As usual, Cheney’s political rhetoric lurches in the big-foot steps of her dad.
Meanwhile, Michael Steele, head of the Republican Party is calling for Reid to step down over his comments. Steele may be deflecting attention from rancor from forces in his own party who question his leadership. Steele is under fire for his non party- line views. In his new book he writes that the Republicans might not walk away with wholesale election victories, so was in the GOP dog house.
By Monday night President Obama put the matter in perspective- “This is a good man who has always been on the right side of history. For him to have used some inartful language in trying to praise me and for people to try and make hay out of that makes absolutely no sense..I guarantee you the average person, white or black, right now is less concerned about what Harry Reid said in a quote in a book a couple of years ago.” Obama said in a TV interview.
It is ironic that the this has gotten more play than Obama’s historic speech on race relations in America at the National Constitution Center before his election, which was downright profound in its insights and candor.
If you grew up in America, you were indoctrinated or exposed to layers of racism and bigotry institutionally, cultural and socially. The best we can do is face those morbid prejudices in ourselves and decide how we really feel about racial issues. Unfortunately, it takes flashpoint incidents in the media like this for us to get the dialogue going.
Will it go back to the eternally rhetorical question? Can we really talk about racial divides in this country or is it all non- verbal communication? For now this issue is not the issue it’s the fight about the issue.