Over the weekend, this excerpt from Mark Halperin and John Heilemann‘s forthcoming book, Game Change brought Harry Reid much grief:
He (Reid) 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 was convinced, in fact, that Obama’s race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.
Republicans scrambled to squeeze as much political capital as they could out of Reid’s unfortunate choice of words. They quickly united behind the meme that Reid’s remarks were just as offensive as the pro-segregationist nostalgia that allowed George Bush to oust Trent Lott from the Senate Majority Leader’s job in 2002. Since Lott was forced to resign then, Reid should be forced to resign now.
The fact of the matter, of course, is that Reid’s remark was a long, long way from being anywhere near as offensive as Lott’s:
Reid’s was an offensive remark — using race-tinged and now archaic phrases to make a point that is really not all that controversial in itself. …
What happened with Lott was altogether different.
Two things in tandem ended Lott’s career in the senate leadership. First, Lott had a long history of support for and association with segregationist and white supremacist groups in the South. Not in some distant past but in the year’s just before his downfall. …
Then one day, Lott said this remarkable thing — if only the candidate of segregation (Strom Thurmond) had been elected president in 1948, we’d have avoided all the problems we’ve had in recent decades.
… To put it more baldly, too many past statements and actions made it clear he was a supporter of white supremacist politics and segregation. Suddenly what official Washington had always ignored was open to intense scrutiny and his days were numbered.
Folks can make an argument for Reid’s punishment on its own terms; but the Lott analogy is laughable.
And it wasn’t just lefty bloggers dismissing the Reid-Lott analogy. There were enough people in the media dismissing it out of hand with the contempt it deserved. For example, this was NBC‘s Washington Bureau Chief Mark Whitaker yesterday on MSNBC:
The only parallel is that they were both Senate Majority Leaders, and they both said insensitive … or used insensitive language, but the fact is there’s a very big difference between Harry Reid talking about the fact that Obama might have a crossover appeal because he’s light-skinned, and doesn’t speak with a strong ethnic dialect, in the context of saying that that would help him become President, and that Reid supported him, and Trent Lott who … let’s remember what Trent Lott said. He said that, if Strom Thurmond had been elected President on the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948, a lot of the bad things that have happened since then wouldn’t have happened, we’d be a lot better off as a country. The clear implication was that it was the result of all the civil rights legislation, the civil rights movement, that the country got worse. There’s a big difference between those two.
Not just reporters, either; conservative pundits, too. Here’s George Will, for God’s sake, dismissing the notion of Reid’s remark being racist as preposterous, rolling all over honorary Grand Poobah of the Republican Anti-Truth Squad, Liz Cheney, in the process:
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.
So what did the Republican Anti-Truth Squad do? Ratchet up the rhetoric even more. Yesterday, Senator John Cornyn, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, doubled up with:
…Trent Lott said something that was far more innocuous than the racially tinged comments that Sen. Reid made
That’s the classic Republican playbook, isn’t it? Take the truth, stamp on it with hob-nailed boots, lie-and-distort it into a wild exaggeration. Have an infinite number of Republicans repeat the lie an infinite number of times. If people reject the lie, exaggerate even more. Eventually, people may start believing at least the lesser initial exaggeration.