By Scott Tibbs, January 22, 2010
Much has been made over the last couple weeks about allegedly "racist" statements by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and ex-President Bill Clinton, concerning Barack Obama's run for the Presidency. Rush Limbaugh has been practically pounding the table about this issue, especially Clinton's comment that a few years ago that Obama would have been delivering coffee to him and Ted Kennedy. Conservative critics have argued that Clinton's statement reflects an attitude that restricts blacks to a servile role.
Clinton's statement is easy enough to address. One of the most common criticisms of Obama during 2007 and 2008 by both Republicans and his Democratic rivals was that Obama lacked the experience to be President. Clinton could easily have been arguing that Obama had not "paid his dues" and did not have the résumé needed to be on the same level with Clinton and Kennedy. I do not think it is fair to assign a racial motivation to Clinton's comments when it is more likely that Clinton's statement was based on experience rather than skin pigmentation.
Harry Reid's statement is much more disturbing. Reid said that Obama was more likely to win because he is "light skinned" and does not speak with a "Negro dialect." Was this a statement of racism on Reid's part, or was it a reflection of Reid's belief that American society still has enough racism that Obama would have difficulty winning if he spoke with a "Negro dialect" or was darker-skinned? It was certainly a stupid thing to say, but was it necessarily racist? That I honestly don't know. Either way, he deserves criticism. Even if his statement was not racially-motivated, his condescending dismissal of the American people is unacceptable.
I think conservatives are pursuing a dangerous strategy here by pouncing on statements made in private conversations. There's not a person alive who has not said something in private that he/she would not want to see on the front page of the newspaper. This controversy has most likely motivated Democrats to dig up statements made in private by conservatives (especially on matters of race), and exploit them for political gain. There is one or more (anonymous, naturally) malcontents in the local Republican Party who loves to tattle on local forums about what conservatives say at the Friday Lunch Bunch, in addition to spreading malicious personal gossip. We will have no reason to argue that private conversations should be private when there is in-kind retaliation for the attacks on Clinton and Reid.
Republicans are also giving Democrats a mountain of ammunition by latching onto political correctness, especially by attacking Clinton's innocent remark. What Republicans need to be doing is dismissing and fighting against political correctness, not latching on to PC when it is politically convenient. Democrats are exponentially more adept at playing the "race card" than Republicans. I've been called a "racist" more times than I can count by Democrats who seek to use it to smear me personally so as to avoid a legitimate discussion of issues such as the Community Reinvestment Act. We should not be doing anything to make that easier to do.