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Is it hypocrisy, payback or a simple case of media gotcha? Its probably all three.
But no matter what you call it, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reids (D-Nev.) words as quoted in a new book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin have had the nations capital and the national media abuzz since the weekend.
The authors wrote that the Nevada Democrat was wowed during the presidential campaign by Barack Obamas oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate. They then quoted Reid as citing Obamas assets as being a light-skinned African-American with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.
In politics these days, its out of fashion to give your opponent the benefit of the doubt. Attack, attack and attack again is the way things are done. If your adversary says something that can be used to brand him or her as a racist or some other intolerant, discriminating boor so much the better.
So it isnt surprising that Republicans and their talk show allies are on the attack, even demanding Reids resignation.
As far as I can tell, Reid made two mistakes. First, he used the word Negro, which was how African-Americans were described years ago, when both Reid and I were much younger. That word has fallen out of favor and is now regarded by many as a racist term. The Senate Majority Leader should have known that.
And second, Reid offered a perfectly reasonable analysis of part of the reason why Obama was a credible candidate for president.
Of course, its a huge mistake these days to tell the truth if you are a politician. Stick to the script of repeating mindless platitudes and talking points. Journalists will complain privately about that approach, but theyll jump on you the minute you actually say something off message.
During the campaign, many of us who regularly talk and write about politics commented about Obamas appeal, noting that most white Americans, who still constitute about three-quarters of the electorate, felt comfortable with him with his speaking style, thoughtfulness, apparent coolness under pressure and emphasis on bringing people together.
Obama and Tiger Woods, both of whom have mixed race ancestry, transcended race in the white community, even though the election returns demonstrated that African-Americans viewed the Illinois Senator as a black political figure.
Reids reference to Negro dialect drew some chuckles on Monday mornings Morning Joe, an MSNBC program that doesnt exhibit the strong ideological bias that the networks prime time schedule has.
Host Joe Scarborough seemed to mock Reid when he laughingly asked Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson, an African-American, What is a Negro dialect?
You tell me, brother, I dont know, said Dyson, never at a loss for words. Is it like this ... Whats up, you know what Im sayin...