Now I’m usually all for just about anything that weakens Harry Reid’s chances at re-election, but I’m afraid that I’m going to have to take his side in the recent “controversy” related to statements that he made according to a tell-all 2008 presidential campaign book.
According to the book Game Changers, Harry Reiddescribed Barack Obama during the presidential election as a black candidate who would benefit from his “light-skinned” appearance and speaking patterns “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”
The book also quotes Bill Clinton, by way of the late Senator Ted Kennedy, as stating, in reference to the man who was then challenging the former president’s wife for the nomination, “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.”
Both of these remarks are being heralded as signs of racism deep within these two powerful of Democrats. But are they really? Let’s take them one by one.
Reid’s statement is getting much more attention right now, presumably because of his current key importance in the healthcare debate. GOP chair Michael Steele is calling for him to step down as Senate majority leader, and others have done the same.
The most notable thing about Reid’s comments is that they are not insulting to Obama; they say two things that are inarguably true: that he is a lighter-skinned black man and that he does not speak with a “negro dialect.” His comments appear to be more about society’s acceptance of such a man as a presidential candidate, as compared to other black candidates. And, indeed, this is doubtlessly true, at least to some degree. As the son of a white woman, Mr. Obama’s skin color did not and does not scream “black” in the way that a darker skinned, more “black” appearing candidate’s could.
It seems obvious that Sen. Reid was taking note of the fact that some may find this easier to accept than they would a very dark black man. (Whether or not that is true to a large enough degree to have made a difference in the election is besides the point; it is at least reasonable that Sen. Reid thought that it could.)
As for Mr. Obama’s speech patterns, it is obvious that he is well-educated and an impressive public speaker. An advanced professional degree (such as a law degree) is rarely accompanied by any strong “dialect,” which is usually seen as a sign of lower intelligence and/or education. While Americans tend to like a touch of a southern accent (think Bill Clinton and George W. Bush), they would certainly reject the heavy southern dialect as is often spoken by the less privileged southerners in my part of the country (think Larry the Cable Guy). Nor, I’m certain, would American’s accept the language of the “guidos” from Jersey Shore. (I’ll admit that I haven’t seen the show, but as an Italian and a New Jersey native, I know exactly what they should sound like. And it makes Fran Drescher sound like the Queen of England.) Similarly, Americans certainly would not have voted for a man who spoke like Snoop-Dogg most of the time. It’s not racist to point that out; it’s common sense.
As for Former President Clinton, the only report here comes through the mouth of a not particularly honest dead man, and they are, more notably, completely devoid of context. “A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee” is all we have to go on.
Hillary Clinton ran on a platform of “35 years of experience.” Thirty-five years before the presidential campaign, Barack Obama was just barely a surly teenager. To the Clintons, he must have always seemed like a child. Surely they wanted others to see Obama as the kind of bright young go-getter who is just getting his feet wet by acting as a go-fer for the grown-ups, but not quite ready to play with the big boys and girls. (Indeed, I’m still not sure that he’s ready, but that’s another story.) And the image of “getting coffee” for someone is hardly a go-to racial stereotype; it’s much more associated with sexism than racism. Doesn’t it seem more plausible that this was an insult to Mr. Obama’s age, rather than to his race?
Now, does that mean that I’m going to jump all over someone like Michael Steele for making a big deal about it? Hell, no. Tit for tat, and all that. Don’t forget that liberals have hardly been “progressive” towards Mr. Steele’s race. Steele and the other Republicans have, after all, got to make the Democrats live up to their own rules.