I was happy to see that several conservative commentators have recently pointed out that Harry Reid’s comments were not actually racist, and that expanding the definition of racism in order to attack him, is a dangerous game for conservatives to play. I made similar points here and here. Here is prominent black conservative Ward Connerly, writing in the Wall Street Journal:
For my part, I am having a difficult time determining what it was that Mr. Reid said that was so offensive.
Was it because he suggested that lighter-skinned blacks fare better in American life than their darker brothers and sisters? If so, ask blacks whether they find this to be true. Even the lighter-skinned ones, if they are honest with themselves, will agree that there is a different level of acceptance.
Was it because he used the politically incorrect term “negro”? If so, it should be noted that there are many blacks of my generation who continue to embrace this term. In fact, “negro” is an option along with “black” and “African-American” on the 2010 Census.
Was it because he implied that Mr. Obama might be cut some political slack because of his oratorical skills or his looks? If so, that fact was not harmful to Joe Biden, who was elected vice president after praising Mr. Obama as “articulate” and “clean-looking.”
Or, finally, could it be viewed as offensive that Mr. Reid suggested that blacks often have a distinctive way of speaking? If that is, indeed, the offense, then I will offend a lot of individuals when I assert that I can tell in probably 90% of the cases whether an individual is black merely by talking to him on the telephone.
In short, this incident does not rise to the level that it prompts me to join the parade of those who urge Mr. Reid to resign because of it. There are far more substantive matters over which the Senate majority leader’s performance should be judged—and I find his performance seriously flawed on any number of them.
Still, to quote President Obama, from another race incident, “this is a teachable moment.” This one doesn’t warrant a beer summit, but it does require serious reflection for the good of our nation.
We are too quick to take offense about race when none was intended. Some are too anxious to manufacture outrage over matters that do not justify the attention that we give them. And we are too quick to politicize race.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele said over the weekend that Reid should step down from his leadership position because of his comments. For this we needed the first African American head of the Republican party?
Steele is obviously right that there’s a double standard when it comes to such racial gaffes. A Republican says something stupidly offensive or offensively stupid about race and he must be destroyed, even if he apologizes like Henry in the snows of Canossa. But when a Democrat blunders the same way, the liberal establishment goes into overdrive explaining why it’s no big deal.
But by demanding Reid’s resignation, Steele is making an idiotic, nasty, and entirely cynical game bipartisan. Yes, there’s a double standard, but the point is that the standard used against conservatives is unfair, not that that unfair standard should be used against Democrats as well.
Whatever Steele’s other strengths and weaknesses may be, a major benefit of having a black leader for the GOP was, for me, that Republicans could have a more credible voice in attacking the unfairness of such race-driven scalp hunts. What will Steele’s position be when some tired Republican hack politician accidentally says something Reid-like down the road? Shall the GOP, for consistency’s sake, demand he or she step down?