(NNPA)—The flap over Sen. Harry Reid’s truthful—though clumsily phrased—comment on Barack Obama’s electability has exposed hypocrisy, and in some cases racism, among Republicans and Democrats, including former President Bill Clinton.
Even Reid acknowledged that he used a poor choice of words last year when he told authors of “Game Change,” a new book on the election, that Obama was elected because he was a “light-skinned” African-American “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”
Reid issued a statement saying, “I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans, for my improper comments.”
President Obama accepted Reid’s apology. In an interview with Roland Martin on TV One, the president said, “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 to make hay out of that makes absolutely no sense.”
No one was trying to make more political hay out of the controversy than GOP Chairman Michael Steele, who called for Reid’s resignation as Senate majority leader.
That’s opposite of the position he took when defending embattled Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott of Mississippi.
Lott said in 2002: “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.”
Thurmond broke away from the Democratic Party in 1948 to run for president on the Dixiecrat Party, whose platform declared, “We stand for the segregation of the races and the racial integrity of each race.”
Lott was forced to resign his leadership post.
According to the Washington Post, [December 14, 2002], “Lt. Gov.-elect Michael S. Steele said last night that he was personally upset by U.S. Sen. Trent Lott’s praise for Sen. Strom Thurmond and his segregationist past, but said Lott should not be forced to relinquish his leadership position in the Senate.”
Now, however, Steele wants to apply a different standard to Reid, who did not come close to endorsing segregation.
Steele is not alone. Republican senators John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona, among others, have also tried to equate Trent Lott’s support of a segregationist with Reid’s comments.
But there is no comparison.
There is no “Negro dialect,” just as there is no “White dialect.” And there are studies that show that “light-skinned” Blacks often enjoy certain advantages over their darker-skinned brothers and sisters in the U.S.
If Reid had chosen his words more carefully, he could have said that because Barack Obama is a product of an interracial marriage and he has clearly mastered the King’s English, many Whites were more comfortable voting for him.
That’s quite different from saying, as Lott did, that if we had followed Strom Thurmond’s White supremacy lead, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years.”
Also, the records of those at the center of this controversy should not be ignored. Reid has consistently earned As on the NAACP’s Civil Rights Report Card. By contrast, Republican senators Cornyn and Kyl routinely earn Fs.
As for Steele, he has made numerous insensitive comments.
After being asked last summer how he would attract more Blacks to the GOP, Steele said, “My plan is to say, ‘Y’all come, because a lot of you are already here.’” In what he described as a joke, he added: “I got the fried chicken and potato salad, okay?”
No, that’s not okay.
I am more disturbed about what was attributed to Bill Clinton in the book than the controversy engulfing Harry Reid.
The book quotes Clinton telling Teddy Kennedy, “a few years ago this guy [Obama] would have been getting us coffee.” Clinton also told Kennedy “the only reason you are endorsing him is because he’s Black. Let’s just be clear.”
Yes, let’s be clear. Why would the grossly over-rated so-called friend of African-Americans feel the need to say that at one time Obama would have been serving Clinton and Kennedy coffee? Is he still longing for those bygone days?
And there were plenty of reasons to endorse Obama over Hillary Clinton. The fact that she is married to Bill Clinton was reason enough to vote for Obama. The former president tried to minimize Obama’s presidential campaign by comparing it to Jesse Jackson’s unsuccessful bids in 1984 and 1988.
Hillary Clinton, playing on the ridiculous notion that Bill Clinton was the nation’s first Black president, told the Trotter Group, an organization of African-American columnists, that she was involved in an interracial marriage.
Bill and Hillary double-teamed Obama and Hillary still could not capture the Democratic nomination. Her husband may have actually hurt her efforts.
As if Reid and Bill Clinton hadn’t created enough of a headache for Democrats, former Illinois Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich told Esquire magazine: “I’m Blacker than Barack Obama. I shined shoes. I grew up in a five-room apartment. My father had a little laundromat in a Black community not far from where we lived. I saw it all growing up.”
Michael Steele, Bill Clinton and Rod Blagojevich should be apologizing to Black America, not Harry Reid.
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator and media coach. He can be reached through his website, www.georgecurry.com.)