Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Never Thought I’d Do This

I have been critical of Harry Reid in the past. (Here. And here. And then here and here. Wait, here's another. One more. No, two more. Ooh, a stray.) It is with no small amount of confusion and irony I find myself supporting him today.

Harry got himself into a jackpot this week for something he said a couple of years ago, when he mentioned—in what he thought were off-the-record comments—that Barack Obama could win the presidential election because he was "light skinned" and had "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one." The controversy is reminiscent of one Obama himself created two years ago, when he referred to some Pennsylvania voters as "bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."

I grew up on the cusp of the part of Pennsylvania Obama was talking about, and thought nothing of it; he was right. I know people like those he described. I was around in the 70s when the mills closed, and saw firsthand how the economic changes were received. I can't quibble with his assessment.

The same is true of Reid's comment. He didn't say it as a slur toward Obama; he was talking about a group of people—who could be from anywhere, but Obama's bitter Pennsylvanians certainly qualified—who might be willing to overlook Obama's race because he's not all that black, and he doesn't speak like he's auditioning for The Wire. You know it's true. Maybe it doesn't apply to you personally, but I defy anyone to argue the point with a straight face. There were people out there for whom that mattered, even if they wouldn't admit it in so many words.

Harry Reid has earned every shred of criticism I've given him over the years, but fair's fair. He shouldn't be pilloried for telling the truth.


Charlieopera said...

Not having a “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one” was pretty telling about Reid, his party and society in general, but the fact Obama did/does, in fact, turn a preacher inflection on and off (depending on the crowd he was/is swooning) was also pretty telling. One would like to think all politicians speak the same way to everybody but I’m sure there are northerners who laid on a southern twang when campaigning in the south.

Are we that easily duped?

Think George and how he was the kind of guy we’d all like to “sit down and have a beer with” and the answer is obvious.

We are, in fact, very easily duped. Bush pulled it off any number of times, but especially in getting us to go to war in Iraq (never mind electing him the 2nd time—he gets no credit for the 1st election—that one was gifted to him).

Sadly, what Reid said makes him a political pragmatist, not necessarily a racist. There’s no denying race was a consideration in his thought process about the elect-ability of Obama … just as there is no denying race continues to influence our “all men are created equal” society … even within our “democratic” party.

Dana King said...

No argument that race played a role in the statement, but I don't think it was a racist role. As you said, Reid was being pragmatic.

I meant to address the use of "Negor" instead of "black." Reid's 70-ish; when he was young, "Negro" was the term of choice. It hasn't been for a long time, but I can't take him to task for such a slip in an unguarded moment.

My mother will be 83 next week, and she occasionally refers to someone as being "colored." Using it doesn't say much, if anything, about her racial attitudes. That's just the term she grew up with, along with some other, less polite and currently truly unacceptable versions that she'd never use today.