Harry Reid's Future (And Michael "Fried Chicken" Steele's Double Standard)
by Nathan Empsall, Sun Jan 10, 2010 at 02:40:23 PM EST
Harry Reid’s not going anywhere – at least not before the midterms.
The Senate Majority Leader is in a bit of trouble for racially insensitive remarks he made during the 2008 campaign that have just now been made public. Reid said that Obama would win despite his race because he is “light-skinned” and speaks “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” The GOP reaction is exactly what you would expect:
In an interview with POLITICO, National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) said it would be "entirely appropriate" for the Nevada Democrat to relinquish his leadership post over comments about Barack Obama's skin color and lack of a "Negro dialect."
And like Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele and Senate GOP Whip Jon Kyl — both of whom also called for Reid's resignation Sunday — Cornyn suggested that any Republican who said what Reid said would be under attack from Democrats, leading African-Americans and the media.
“There’s a big double standard here,” Steele said during an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “What’s interesting here, is when Democrats get caught saying racist things, an apology is enough. If that had been [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) saying that about an African-American candidate for president of the president of the United States, trust me, this chairman and the [Democratic National Committee] would be screaming for his head, very much as they were with Trent Lott.”
Steele added that "There has to be a consequence here if the standard is the one set in 2002 with Trent Lott.” That's a big if, my friend.
There are three obvious reasons why Reid won’t resign as Majority Leader despite Lott's precedent. First, Lott had a history of racial insensitivity; Reid has no such thing. Gaffes are usually only an issue when they reinforce an existing image, and while the southern senator had an already-spotty history on racial issues, the boxer from Searchlight doesn’t have that problem.
Second, Lott was speaking about policy whereas Reid was analyzing the country’s electoral abilities (and may well have been right). That doesn’t excuse his language - the word “negro” is quite historical anachronism, and he was right to apologize – but as much as rhetoric does matter, we’re not exactly talking deep substance here.
Finally, Lott lacked the support of the President, a President from his own party, but Barack Obama has made it clear that he continues to back Reid (as do both Al Sharpton and Rep. James Clyburn, the highest ranking African American in Congress. And seriously, if even Al Sharpton doesn't find something overly offensive, isn't the discussion kind of over?).
Of course, this isn’t the only important Harry Reid story out this weekend. He’s not going anywhere before the midterms, but a new poll shows that the Majority Leader’s November woes continue to deepen. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Reid’s favorable-unfavorable is now 33-52, down from December’s 49-38. His three potential Repub opponents lead him by margins of 10, 8, and 5, with all three gaining well over 50% of Independent votes. Worst of all, this poll was taken before the "negro" quote was made public. It is for this reason – electoral math, not racial insensitivity – that even Markos is now calling for Reid to resign his leadership position and retire from the Senate. Not going to happen, but certainly troubling for the Majority Leader.