JARRING

I think Matt Yglesias is going too easy on Harry Reid when he says

To clarify what I said yesterday it’s the very lack of having really done anything wrong that makes Reid’s situation to sticky. It’s just jarring for those of us under a certain age to think of an old white guy walking around saying “negro” and wielding political influence. But Reid can’t really apologize for being the sort of old white guy who would say that because he is, in fact, just such an old white guy. On the merits, the observation that it’s a political asset for Obama that he doesn’t speak in a manner that’s racially coded as black is pretty much banal conventional wisdom.

First, I’m sure are plenty of senior citizens, including African-Americans, who still find it jarring that the US Senate is run by a guy who uses the word “Negro” in conversation with journalists. Beyond that, I don’t think Matt believes that Harry Reid is just physically incapable of not saying Negro. I’m sure he’s done much harder things in thirty-some years in public life.

There’s a range of readings of what someone could mean by using the word “Negro” to describe the “dialect” Obama doesn’t use, from “the way Black people talk in my racist stereotype,” to “the way Black people talk in the minds of ignorant racists,” and I don’t know any way to discern exactly where Harry Reid’s intended meaning falls on the spectrum. But he was right to apologize.

That said, any comparison between Harry Reid’s comments about his support for a Black man for President and Trent Lott’s support for a White supremacist for President can only make Harry Reid look very, very good. And Republicans’ attempts to conflate the two just leave the impression that they never really understood what was wrong with what Trent Lott said in the first place. On this, I agree with Matt entirely.

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HOW NOT TO RESPOND TO TRAGEDY: AN INCOMPLETE LIST

Steve Bell: “Do you think we’re going to be able to pass substantial Medicaid cuts and Social Security reform in the middle of this? You can’t put that much on the plate.”

Bill O’Reilly: “A lot of the people — a lot of the people who stayed wanted to do this destruction. They figured it out. And that’s — I’m not surprised.”

Rick Santorum:”There may be a need to look at tougher penalties on those who decide to ride it out and understand that there are consequences to not leaving.”

Grover Norquist: “I don’t think Republicans will be fooled into taking this necessary spending and using it to oppose pro-growth tax cuts.”

Barbara Bush: “And so many of the people in the arena here, you know, were underprivileged anyway, so this is working very well for them.”

George Bush: “Out of the rubbles of Trent Lott’s house–he’s lost his entire house,” cracked Bush, “there’s going to be a fantastic house. And I’m looking forward to sitting on the porch.”

Trent Lott just livened up what’s been a not overly riveting series of Senate floor speeches on judicial nominations by accusing Democrats with concerns about extremists nominees of having turned the Senate “into a torture chamber.” Given the honorable Senator from Mississippi’s enthusiastic defense of the administration when it came to actual torture, one can only assume that he indeed means that the Senate has caused pain “of an intensity akin to that which accompanies serious physical injury such as death or organ failure” to Priscilla Owen and Janice Rogers Brown.

Senator Trent Lott recently stumped for Bush in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where Reagan declared his campaign by condemning “welfare moms” and championing “states; rights” not far from the graves of murdered civil rights activists:

— U.S. Sen. Trent Lott today told an enthusiastic Neshoba County Fair crowd that Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is “a French-speaking socialist from Boston, Massaschusetts, who is more liberal than Ted Kennedy.” It was a line that Lott said he’d been working on for a while, and it produced loud applause from hundreds of Mississippians gathered at Founders’ Square, the centerpiece of the historic fair.

Obviously a vile remark. Boilerplate red-baiting aside, condemning a man for speaking French is a cynical appeal to isolationist nativism. It’s an insult to this country to suggest that we’re stronger if our leaders can’t communicate with the rest of the world in any language but their own. But degrading the speaking of French isn’t just an insult to the international community. It’s an attack on the most vulnerable members of our national community, those who’ve immigrated here, increasing numbers of whom come from France and former French colonies, like the large and growing Haitian community here in Florida. An attack on Americans who speak French is simply another incarnation of the less-politically-expedient attacks on those who speak Spanish and the more-politically-expedient attacks on those who speak Arabic. This isn’t populism – this is a divisive attack on the populace. Don’t hold your breath for our “uniter” of a President, whose campaign equates criticism of his record with “political hate speech,” to condemn Senator Lott’s chosen attack on his challenger.