Outside editorial: Reid's belittling remarks

Posted: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The following editorial appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

What if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had said that black political leaders - or Latino or women or ... - often feel that they must have one foot planted in one world and one foot in another? And that any leader with crossover aspirations will have to appeal to both worlds - and in a national campaign, to many worlds?

If he had said this, he would now be lauded for political astuteness and sensitivity in recognizing that in electoral politics, race still matters.

Instead, Reid told the authors of a new book, "Game Change," that the country was ready for a black president who was "light-skinned" and spoke with "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

And in an instant (use of the word "Negro" is a clue), what might have been mere recognition of political reality became an insult.

And that's precisely what it was. Reid belittled President Barack Obama by reducing his essence to his skin color, by suggesting that who Obama was could be turned on and off like a spigot and that Obama was, in fact, doing so for political expedience.

The Reid comment presumes that there is such a thing as "acting white" or "acting black," when the reality is that people involved in both worlds are simply being themselves - often, bicultural, bilingual and comfortable and competent in both worlds.

Yes, voters who can't look past skin color still exist. But, in the 2008 election, there was a hunger for change. End of story.

Some are likening Reid's remarks to those of Trent Lott, ousted in 2002 as a Senate Republican leader because of racially insensitive remarks. But here we have Reid urging Obama to run for president - though his views on why he could succeed are skewed - and Lott uttering remarks widely construed as supportive of then-Sen. Strom Thurmond's early segregationist views. Big difference.

No, Reid should not step down.

And, to tackle another equally offensive view out there, Obama is not the nation's Affirmative Action president, elected only because of white guilt.

He certainly is the nation's first black president - a milestone that should justly make this nation proud.

And he's president because he was the better candidate. Period

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