Tom Halperin's and John Heilemann's new book, Game Change, seems like a gossip book. Mostly because it is. The authors defend the book against that charge by saying it's all true, so it can't be gossip. But they're confusing gossip and rumor. If the woman down the street has an affair, it'll set off all the neighborhood gossips. It's a celebrity scandal book focused on the political set.
But we'll look less at the gossip aspect of the book and more on the truth aspect here. The big scandal to break out of this book is that Harry Reid defended Barack Obama's electoral chances with a clumsy, poorly-phrased, and not very smart statement about how not-black seeming the candidate was. Republicans are arguing that this is every bit as bad as a statement that got Trent Lott kicked out of his leadership position. Asked if Reid should resign, Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele told FOX New Sunday, "I think he should, if the standard is the one set by [Trent Lott]."
Of course, Mike's got his own problems and has to welcome this distraction, but I haven't come across many dissenting opinions among Republicans, so we'll go with Steele's as representative.
It might pay to compare and unpack both Reid's and Lott's statements and see if they're the same thing. First off, Harry Reid, via Washington Post:
[Halperin and Heilemann] describe Reid assessing Obama's strengths as a candidate. Reid, they write, "believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,' as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination."
Now Trent Lott:
I want to say this about my state: 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.
So, to unpack Reid, he basically said Obama would win because, although a lot of voters are racist, Obama hides his racial handicap well. Not the best thing in the world to say, but there ya go.
Lott unpacks a lot differently. What he said was that he was proud of voting for a crazy old racist who ran on the issue of segregation, that everyone should've voted for a crazy old racist, and that it turned out said crazy old racist was right all along.
Clearly, there's a difference. These aren't the same statement at all. Where Reid's is supportive, but offensive, Lott's was segregationist and offensive. One of the great tragedies of American history is that segregationists like Strom Thurmond, Jesse Helms, and Jerry Falwell didn't live to see Obama elected. Let's get the first female and the first gay president a lot faster this time, so we can see the antifeminists' and homophobes' apoplexy, OK? In fact, let's shoot for the first lesbian president and kill two bigoted birds with one stone. Bonus points if she's Mexican-American. There'd be a lot of drinking going on that first Wednesday of November.
If Reid's statement had more "I hope he loses" and less "I think he wins," we might be able to accuse him of harboring racist sentiments. I'm no fan of Harry Reid and I think his statement was stupid, but I don't think he's a bona fide racist. He's just not very smart -- an opinion I know will come as a shock to those who read this blog with any regularity.
So, should Harry Reid resign? Not over this. Does what he said equate with what Lott said? Not by a long shot.
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