Obama Gives Reid More Cover on Racially Charged Remark

Posted April 5, 2010 at 2:11pm

Three months after coming under fire for using racially charged language to describe the nation’s first black president, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) may have gotten a little more absolution from President Barack Obama.

In a new book by New Yorker editor David Remnick, Obama acknowledges that his ability to “conjugate my verbs and speak in a typical Midwestern newscaster’s voice … helps ease communication between myself and white audiences,” according to a book review in Sunday’s Washington Post.

Obama also allows, “There’s no doubt that when I’m with a black audience I slip into a slightly different dialect. But the point is, I don’t feel the need to speak a certain way in front of a black audience. There’s a level of self-consciousness about these issues the previous generation had to negotiate that I don’t feel I have to.”

Reid ran into trouble in January when another political tome, “Game Change,” revealed the Majority Leader had referred to Obama as “light-skinned” and had said he had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” in an attempt to explain why Obama’s race would not hinder him — and could benefit him — in the 2008 presidential race. Reid quickly apologized publicly and privately to Obama and to several civil rights leaders and African-American Members of Congress. The president at the time said he accepted Reid’s apology “without question.”

One Senate Democratic aide said Obama’s quotes seemed to prove Reid’s original point, without the outdated and insensitive use of the word “Negro.”

“Another classic Harry Reid,” said the aide. “Sometimes he may be a little too blunt-spoken, but he speaks the truth.”

Remnick’s book, “The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama,” also notes that as Obama began his career in Chicago politics, he learned to tailor his speech and mannerisms to his audience. For example, Remnick writes that Obama would give “a more straight-up delivery for a luncheon of businesspeople in the Loop; a folksier approach at a downstate VFW; echoes of the pastors of the black church when he is in one.”