Monday, January 11, 2010

The Racism of Reid and the Democrats

The recent political uproar caused by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-Nev) comments about President Obama’s race bring to the fore the failure of the Democratic Party to stand by its presumptive principles. In an upcoming book, Reid is quoted as privately describing Obama as “light skinned” and “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” when he ran against the current President in the 2008 Democratic primaries.

Unsurprisingly, the Democrats have rushed to protect the Majority Leader by accepting his apology and commencing an attack on the GOP. Even the vitriolic Al Sharpton, forever looking for an excuse to play the race card, has defended Reid. This stands in stark contrast to a similar incident involving former Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott, who praised the segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond. After stating the arguably ambiguous racist statement that, “…if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years,” Lott was summarily abandoned by Republicans and forced to resign.

Admittedly, the GOP has used this to their political advantage. Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele, who is black, has decried the Democrats’ double standard. However, regardless of whether Reid’s comments warrant dismissal or other punitive action, the incident highlights the increasing hypocrisy in the Democratic Party. Modern Democrats are largely out of touch with the fundamentals of the Democratic Party. While Democrats of yesterday argued for equal opportunity and treatment for everyone regardless of individual characteristics, Democrats of today clamor for special treatment for groups based on these same traits. In a discussion on McGovernism, the political philosophy of modern Democrats rising from McGovern’s presidential campaign in 1972, Norman Podhoretz, in his book “Why are Jews Liberal?,” develops this profound analysis:
…[W]heras the Democrats [since Roosevelt] had believed in treating individuals as individuals without regard to “race, creed, color, or country of national origin,” McGovernism’s embrace of quotas translated into treating individuals entirely with regard to race, creed, and color; and whereas the Democrats had interpreted the idea of equality as meaning of opportunity for individuals, McGovernism took it to mean equality of results for groups.
This new style of racism undermines the very premises on which the Democratic Party is supposedly built. Harry Reid’s comment is only the latest indication of the rampant prejudice and naked disparagement of minorities harbored by the New Left. This adds to a long line of questionable incidents within the Democratic fold; from the inclusion of former Ku Klux Klan member Senator Robert Byrd as one of the leading Democrats in the Senate (current President pro tempore) to the multifarious occurrences of race-baiting by the pernicious Al Sharpton and equally pestiferous Jesse Jackson.

The fact of the matter is the Democrats have long since failed to live up to their own professed high standards of equality. Reid’s snafu is indicative of how the party is only able to think in terms of race. A race-tinted world view is the operating paradigm amongst those who profess a desire to have an equal society. This colored perspective severely debilitates the party from not only forming the ideal society they supposedly envision but also from bettering the condition of those they allegedly aim to help.

It is appalling that the Democrats are continuously able to seize ownership of the race issue by dismissing both the blatant and subtle racism on the Left, while successfully portraying the isolated and peripheral racism on the Right as mainstream. It is even more embarrassing that the supposed leaders of the black and minority communities stand for this subterfuge. As embarrassing as it may be, the Democrats are nevertheless able to maintain their primacy as standard-bearers of racial protection due to their pandering to noble societal goals followed by their dismissal in favor of targeted handouts.

It is high time that Republicans reveal this illiberal agenda for what it is; and maybe win a few minority votes in the process. Republicans can and should proclaim how the rampant favoritism and paternalism of Reid’s ilk not only injure America’s minorities but are also dismissive of the founding American principles of equality. Rather than simply using Reid’s commentary as a simplistic but easy political ploy, they should capitalize on the opportunity to drastically change the debate on and ownership of race and equality in America. Unfortunately, as past experiences have shown, Republican leadership will most likely fumble once again.


  1. Well it seems to me that what you are missing is the fact that his comment was not actually racist, so the right wing jumping on it trying to paint it as racist just further proves how tone deaf they are on racial issues.

  2. Well I think that is debatable. One of the fundemental issues here is what 'racism' is defined as. The point is that there is very often a double standard between what is racist for a Democrat and what is racist for a Republican. I think the two examples here, Reid and Lott, were arguably equivalent in this regard. Reid clearly had race-based words and referred to Obama's skin-color and how his 'blackness' related to his electoral success. Lott praised a man who was (once) a segregationist. He didn't specifically address race, but people inferred that his statement displayed support for segregation. It could easily be interpreted that he supported many other of Thurmond's policy proposals and that he was not commenting on race.

    I think it fair to argue whether these comments were racist or not, but it is imperative to have a consistent standard regardless of political affiliation. Personally, I tend to be more liberal (not in the political, but in the philosophical sense) in this regard. I think we live in far too of a PC country where discussing race is unfortunately taboo. I wouldn't can Reid for this (maybe for other things), but I wouldn't have canned Lott either. To be honest I think Reid's commentary was probably correct [I might now be called a racist by some.] What upset me in this instance was the quick defense by politicians and supposed minority leaders, that isn't present in the reverse. If we want a high or low threshold for what is 'racist' we can debate that, but same threshold for all.

    Thanks for writing!

  3. I gotta roll my eyes. Reid's comment wasn't racist at all. The right wing just wants to twist it so that it comes off that way, in order to score political points. Reid was absolutely right - the country was finally ready to elect a well-spoken Negro president of the United States. Calling a man possessing African ancestry "Negro" isn't racist at all - just using older descriptive language.

  4. Well I think you are partially right - the Right is playing the political game; however, the Democrats do the same. I think a debate about whether Reid's comments were racist is secondary to the debate about how discussion over race is muddied (or precluded) due to the political game. The Democrats unfairly dominate the race issue and it is understandable albeit unconstructive that the Republicans would seize an opportunity to try and turn the tables.

    The larger issue is questioning why the Democrats still maintain possession of the race issue. I think there is obviously a historical precedent, but history doesn't mean it necessarily makes sense today. The point is, I believe that many conservative policy ideals will actually be better for minorities; however, Republicans are largely unable to communicate these ideas due in part to their own failings and, as I largely discussed here, the Democratic ownership of race. In other words, when Republicans offer solutions to minority/race-based issues they are tarred-and-feathered as racist b/c these ideas run counter to the Democratic orthodoxy (despite often times intending on not only helping America, but those individuals).

    As to your commentary on the racism of Reid's comment, I tend to agree. "Negro" though is one of those terms that has become un-PC, mainly, I beleive, because it was the prominent pejorative term used prior to the Civil Rights Era. The question is how do we define racism, strictly or loosely. I'm all for loose (eg that Reids comments or Lotts were not racist), but we need to be consistent in order to have an arena where honest debate can occur.

    Thanks for reading!

  5. What the heck does "Negro Dialect" even mean?

  6. That's probably a fair question, but my presumption is that it refers to the so-called ebonics of inner-cities as opposed to the urbane, cultured dialogue of the elite institutions in America.

  7. Josh--

    Wait a second. If your presumption is that Reid's quote implied ebonics -- African-American vernacular English -- then is "Negro dialect" racism, or simply a condescending, patriarchal reference to Obama? One reading into his quote suggests prejudice, the other suggests the language of a man simply from a different generation making a general observation (Tar-Nehishi Coates of The Atlantic, a black man, defended Reid over this point recently).

    I'm not going to defend Sharpton -- I think we uniformly share the same views on his brand of awfulness -- but I'm also not ready to fully equate Lott with Reid, the central point in your thesis. There are major differences between the records of Lott and Reid:
    - Lott had made several endorsements of Thurmond's presidential push over the years, a campaign which ran on the slogan of "Segregation Forever!" Voting for Thurmond while opposing this viewpoint would be akin to voting for Reagan but opposing the Roth-Kemp tax reform act.
    - Lott supported segregation while studying at the University of Mississippi, going so far as to support efforts of his fraternity to remain all-white.
    - He has a relationship dating back to at least 1992 with the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group that, on its Web site, proudly opposes "all efforts to mix the races of mankind" and as part of its "Declaration of Principles." (I had to access its home page using my BlackBerry -- my computer at work wouldn't let me visit it, as the company filter puts it under the "racism and hate" category.)

    Also, Michael Steele would do well not to criticize anyone about insensitive racial remarks after his "honest injun" line from earlier this month.

    I know that this controversy, however disappointingly weak it is, is simply your stepping stone to the larger argument at work: that two standards exist for Democrats and Republicans when it comes to race. On that point, I can hardly disagree, just as I think it's scandalous how Republicans are given carte blanche to savage Democrats at every opportunity over national defense when the record of their last president was, um, not exactly spotless.

    But such is the give and take of modern American politics, I suppose.


  8. Karl~

    What you say regarding Lott certainly is convincing evidence that he has (or had) a racist streak; however, I presume much of this information was available long before his 'final praise' of Thurmond got him the ax. It raises an interesting question of whether it is the state of being a racist or simply making racist comments that our society wishes to control (presumably one could be both or either). Both are of course in stark contrast to the original sin, so to speak, of 'doing racist' (as in discriminating).

    But you are right, it is a stepping stone for the larger argument; maybe not the prettiest one to use, but it suffices. The larger argument though is more than just the existence of two standards, but also that the two standards prohibit honest debate on the state of minority issues in America (poverty, single-parent homes, affirmative action, etc.)

    However, I do take issue though with a comparison between charges of 'weak on defense' and 'racist'. Republicans definitely do use the former as a political tool, even unfairly at times. The difference though is that while the label "weak on defense" may be politically damaging, it is based in policy differences. If you ask a Republican why he makes such a charge against a Democrat, most would answer with a list of reasons or policies that explain why said Democrat is not as strong. Contrarily, a charge of 'racist' is simply (generally) an emotional attack that preys on the wounds of history. To state a Senator is racist because he doesn't support a healthcare bill or affirmative action is to directly ignore the policy reasons or principles and ascribe some personal motive. I think this would be more equivalent to Republican charges that a certain Democrat "hates America" or "is a terrorist" because, for example, of his opposition to the war, rather than a charge of "weak on defense". I would join you in protest of the former two statements which are unconstructive and detrimental to honest debate on foreign policy.

    Thanks for reading!


  9. I am guessing you didn't take many classes in African American studies if you can pull a quote like
    "'Negro' though is one of those terms that has become un-PC, mainly, I beleive [sic], because it was the prominent pejorative term used prior to the Civil Rights Era."
    from your Cornell education. You paid for that education? I am betting mommy and daddy paid.

    Dude, read a book. I suggest "The Strange Career of Jim Crow" by C. Vann Woodward. Or Dick Gregory's biography. Try "Native Son" by Richard Wright.

    Look up in a dialect book the difference between Nee-grow vs. Nig-er and Nig-ra. The first is a polite term for the race (goes with Caucasian and Asian). The second was the perjorative term that is now in vogue for its titilating qualities. The Third was used by Southerners who tried to put the first two together.

    The term "Negro" is currently used in African American vernacular to cast aspersions by clever reference on the Booker T. Washington/Martin Luther King wing of "polite negroes" who tried to improve themselves as individuals. Currently the Marcus Garvey/Malcolm X (pre-Hadj) stream is more popular - a sad thing that has led to a further decline in the fortunes of the children of Ham.
    That young ignorant so-called conservatives cannot tell the difference between Trent Lott (a man reared in a state that was actively murdering hundreds of black people every year) praising a segregationist who sought to keep black people from getting an education (though fathering children in that community) and wishing his segregationist Dixiecrat Party had won in '48 and Harry Reid making a true observation that America probably would not have accepted a darker skinned person or certainly not a person of color whose speaking style was steeped in the varieties of rich African-American dialects (from Carolina island Gullah to Harlem Jive) is simply affirming of the idea that young conservatives are ill-read, ill-informed, and ill-willed towards people who actually worked for what they have in the world.

  10. I appreciate your insight into the language, but next time please try to keep the sarcasm out of the discussion. It seems you have a lot that you can add, but diminish it with petty language.

    I don't disagree that there are differences between Lott and Reid. This was not meant to be a discussion regarding either or their histories (which do not necessarily have a bearing on their current beliefs). Rather I intended on using Reid as a platform for a larger political discussion. I think your criticisisms are fair. The Lott/Reid discussion may not have been the best vehichle for this discussion, but it was the one available.

    The general argument - Reid and Lott aside - is that there is a double standard on acceptable dialogue regarding minority or race issues. True insight and better policy can only develop when honest and open discourse is allowed. Politicization of issues such as race (and others) restricts these opportunities and is undesirable.

    Thank you for taking the time to read and comment.


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