Monday, January 11, 2010

No resignation for Reid over troubling comments

Nevada Senator and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has received harsh criticism as of late for a private conversation he had behind closed doors regarding Barack Obama's chances of becoming president during the 2008 election.

Disclosed this week in a new book, Reid said of Obama that he could win the election for president because he was a "light-skinned" African-American with "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

The words are unfortunate, and criticism is certainly warranted. Private or not, the words Reid used to describe Obama were inappropriate and unfitting of a person in Reid's position. Reid should have, and has since, apologized for making the remark.

It certainly wouldn't be wrong for some to question whether Reid deserves to stay in his leadership role. But some are doing so based off of irrational reasoning.

Leaders in the Republican Party are calling on Reid to resign because Democrats during former Maj. Leader Trent Lott's tenure did the very same thing. Some in the GOP are calling the Democrats' support of Reid hypocritical, pointing out that immense pressure on Lott eventually forced him to give up his leadership position.

But should the comparison really be made? Reid wasn't saying that Obama was a bad person based on his race -- the Majority Leader was, more or less, pointing out America's bias rather than his own. Using the word "negro" was a bad choice, but Reid was trying to defend having Obama as a candidate rather than why Obama would make a poor choice as one (many Democrats had reservations in nominating Obama because they felt an African-American couldn't win the election).

Take a look now at Trent Lott's comments. During the late Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday celebration, Lott told a room full of people that, "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, [the state of 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 all these years, either."

Strom Thurmond ran for president in 1948 under a clear segregationist platform. It's his lasting legacy, and the legacy of the Dixiecrat Party that he helped in part found. In other words, Lott's comments were a clear endorsement of the idea that, if Thurmond had been president -- and had instituted his policies of segregation -- we wouldn't have the problems we see today.

Lott's comments, then, appear to be quite racial and direct, while Reid's seemed to be prognostic of the American public's opinion of "light-skinned" African-Americans. They weren't the best words to choose, but they weren't a clear endorsement of racism either.

So should Reid resign? It certainly wouldn't be wrong for him to do so. His comments were out of line and insensitive. For any leader to have made them would be a mistake.

However, Reid's history on the topic seems to show a man who is compassionate, who is concerned with race relations in America today. Just this year, Congress passed legislation strengthening hate crimes legislation, a bill that was pushed strongly by Reid himself. Others can attest for Reid's character, including Barack Obama himself and Attorney General Eric Holder, the nation's first African-American AG.

"He's a good man who has done an awful lot in his leadership position to advance the rights of people of color in this country, and he's a good guy who I admire a great deal," Holder said of Reid. "I don't think that there is a prejudiced bone in his body."

Reid should keep his leadership position and should not resign. The words he used to describe Obama are not an indication of who Reid is as a person. Reid isn't a racist, and simply made a mistake in a conversation on race. The Republicans calling for his resignation are wrong to do so.

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