Reid told the truth about Obama

My my my, such a kerfuffel.

Sen. Harry Reid, D- Nev, the Senate Majority Leader, is being ripped for saying Obama was elected because he has relatively light skin and doesn’t speak with a “negro” dialect.

No kidding, and the sun rises in the east. Is that controversial as well?

Then neither should this be. It is, though, as our own story here  says, and of course the national news is full of it.  The GOP Party Chair Michael Steele wants Reid to resign because, really, how could he say such a thing? You can almost smell the manufactured huffiness. 

But it’s true. Never mind the use of the word “negro,” which I thought was one of the acceptable ones (United Negro College Fund anyone?) let’s talk about the realities of who can get elected in this country. Could Mike Tyson, even if he repeated what Obama said, word for word, through the entire campaign, have won the election?

No. Not a chance. This nation is not ready for that yet. Maybe ready isn’t the right word. Too many racists who still think legal apartheid in this country was just fine are still alive, may be more accurate. Too many of their children aren’t racist but still think blacks are, well, just, oh you know, weird, or something.

In 1968 the NYTimes ran an article saying that black people could be executives in major companies. Seriously, that was the news: A black guy could be an executive. You expected the headline to say “Wow, black people: More than just watermelon and fried chicken!”

In 1980 Ronald Reagan made a fameous speech in Mississippi in which he advocated “states rights” in a manner which made it clear that he was talking about race. There’s a fine analysis of the speech, and it’s context, here (click!)

We’ve progressed a lot since then, but along with the fact that we as a society still have a way to go on accepting blacks as equals, there the political reality that we as a voting nation, buy our politicians the way we buy toothpaste.

It’s all about image first, then maybe we lo0k at qualifications, although the Sara Palin phenomenon makes me wonder about that latter.

We as consumers trust people who look the way we want them to look, we don’t trust people who look different. This is why a woman, any woman, is going to have a tough time getting elected president, although in recent years it’s gotten easier. Hillary Clinton and, yes, Ms. Palin, broke a lot of ground there.

 It’s not that a woman has worse ideas, or is worse at command, they just don’t look like Americans expect leaders to look. There’s a massive pile of cultural and sociological baggage behind that, but there it is. George Bush was amazingly telegenic, although he had the command capabilities of a C-student at Yale.

It’s kind of sad — just an aside here — but someone who is rawboned, lank, with a big nose and a funny name could probably not be elected in this climate. Abraham Lincoln, especially before the beard? Get real!

Then you have Obama, who looks OK and is an amazing speaker. He has a drop-dead gorgeous wife and a standard American family straight out of central casting.

There was a lot else going on in 2008 too — the McCain/Palin meltdown, the massive economic disruption, a huge cultural shift of letting women and blacks into politics in both parties in a kind of race to see who could look more open minded — but as far as the discussion on appearances goes, Reid was correct.

Look at who else in the past has been spoken of as a possible “first” black president – Julian Bond and Colin Powell. Both light skinned blacks, both well-spoken men. 

Bond, famously, once did a skit on Saturday Night Live with Garrett Morris on which type of blacks were more intelligent, light skinned, or dark skinned. Morris, of course, played the foil, since he had the darker skin. You can enjoy the transcript by clicking this button (click!)

The false perception was a reality in 1977, it is reality now. Anyone who thinks we don’t, still, have racism in this country, both subtle and overt, is kidding him/herself.

As this commentery in the WaPost makes clear, Reid spoke the truth and it is the GOP (which has plenty of southern members who voted against Obama precisely because he is black) that is screaming about namby pamby political correctness.  It is jumping on this as a way to attack the democrats because their policy is to attack anything and everything this administration does, even if it speaks the truth.

So why are they getting traction with this if Reid did tell the truth?  The Big Lie is a powerful tool.

There’s actually an old joke about how you take the obvious truth and, by speaking of it in a carefully crafted way, make people think it’s bad. It goes like this:

A grocery store manager was dismayed to discover that  he’d received a large shipment of salmon that was white, not pink. Dismayed at what to do with it, he finally hit on this idea: He told his clerks to make a huge display of the white salmon in the store, and put up a huge sign that said “White Salmon, Guaranteed not to turn pink!”

He sold out.

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8 Responses to Reid told the truth about Obama

  1. Pingback: Twitter Tweets about Obama as of 11. januar 2010 « Obame and Copenhagen

  2. flatlander100 says:

    Andrew Volokh, conservative legal scholar over at his blog, The Volokh Conspiracy [ ] has, to his credit, refused to be stampeded by the phony outrage of the Super Sensitive Right. He writes of Reid’s comments and the huffin’ and puffin’ about it on the right:

    The complaints about Sen. Reid’s quote (“He was wowed by Obama’s oratorical gifts and 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 later put it privately”) strike me as much ado about relatively little.

    First, the substance. As I understand it, Sen. Reid was simply speaking about what he saw as political reality: that a majority of voters would be ready to accept a lighter-skinned black man who spoke mainstream English, but that only a minority voters would be ready to accept someone who was darker-skinned or who generally spoke non-mainstream English. This is a report of what Sen. Reid perceives as racism against dark-skinned blacks; it is certainly not itself racism against blacks.

    As for the Republican comparison of Reid’s comments with Trent Lott’s, Volokh has this to say:

    It’s also hard to see this as equivalent to Sen. Trent Lott’s remarks, which cost Lott the Senate leadership, that “When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we [in Mississippi] 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 the years, either.” Since Sen. Thurmond’s 1948 run for the Presidency has generally been understood (correctly, to my knowledge) as expressing support for racial segregation, Sen. Lott reasonably appeared to have been endorsing the propriety of that very idea. As I mentioned, nothing in the substance of Sen. Reid’s statements endorses any such thing.

    Pretty much sums it up, I think.

  3. Jim Hutchins says:

    I was living in Mississippi at the time of Sen. Lott’s gaffe.

    Volokh’s analysis is spot-on. It’s that Sen. Lott had a consistent, lifelong pattern of racist and race-baiting statements. The exact statement that he made at Strom Thurmond’s “party” was significant in that it neatly encapsulated Sen. Lott’s longstanding troglodyte beliefs and made a great sound bite.

    There are many reasons why Sen. Reid should step aside quietly and let the Democratic party retain the seat (he has an approval rating in the 30s/40s going back to 2006):

    However, his remarks about candidate Obama are not among those reasons.

  4. flatlander100 says:

    It’s Eugene Volokh, of course, not Andrew.
    Type in haste, repent at leisure.

  5. Tom says:

    Good piece Mr. Trentelman. It is sad that the Grand Old Party of my youth has now degenerated into this sort of drivel. The Republican party has been taken over by a bunch of phony power mongers with a whole slate of disingenuous crap like this. The Utah branch of the party is especially rancid and dishonest with the people. However, the national party seems to be routinely ripping pages out of the Valentine/Butters/Bramble/Herbert book of political sleaze, and they may just catch up if they continue with this sort of BS.

  6. Jim Hutchins says:

    One thing that has occurred to me quite frequently during this “debate” over Sen. Reid’s comments is that liberal/progressive commentators rarely, if ever, tell me how I am *supposed* to feel about a topic while conservative/freeper/teabagger commentators do it ALL THE TIME.

    Like Claude Rains, I am supposed to be shocked, shocked! that gambling is going on at Rick’s, or that Reid makes a (generally accurate) comment about an African-American man’s electability using inelegant language.

    Well, gosh. I’m not shocked. Sorry. No outrage here.

    Nor was I outraged at Sonia Sotomayor’s “Wise Latina” remark, or any one of dozens of other statements I’m supposed to be outraged by. In general, I’m not outraged by political speech from any quarter. I am outraged by political actions, such as filibustering a bill that is critically needed to bring America right again, or pretend Democrats demagoguing Health Care Reform for their own personal gain with no regard for the good of the country.

    Isn’t that what we are supposed to be outraged by? Actions, and not words?

  7. Justme says:

    After hearing, week after week, other members of my priesthood group at church making disparaging and often racially tinged remarks about our new President, I finally protested the only way I could. I simply stopped going to church.

    The comment that drove me completely out? A discussion of how much ammunition we all need to have in our family supply now that “the mark of Cain has brought socialism into the White House.”

    Reid was exactly right. Maybe he’s heard some of this in his priesthood group, too.

  8. laytonian says:

    Conservative columnist George Will pointed out, that there “wasn’t a whit of racism” in Reid’s comment.

    Charlie’s right. It’s NOT that “Reid told the truth about Obama”, it’s that Reid told the truth about America. He even told the truth about blacks, who haven’t shown much support for black candidates in the past.

    I remember, during the elections, turning to Fox News and hearing a commentator talk about “Obama can’t be elected BECAUSE HIS WIFE IS TOO BLACK!”

    In other words, “We’re worried that this Obama guy won’t scare people enough, so we gotta scare people with his wife.” It wasn’t long after that, that most of what Michelle Obama said about being “proud of my country” was cut out, leaving only a few “proud of my country” inflamatory words used to turn her into some sort of anti-American mole. It was no surprise that people fell for that.

    Trent Lott’s getting lots of sympathy this morning. Ugh.

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