Harry Reid's 'Negro' Comment

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During the 2008 presidential primaries, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid privately supported Barack Obama using an indelicate racial term, according to a new book, "Game Change," by political reporters Mark Halperin and John Heilemann. The authors recount, "He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,' as he said privately." Since the quote came out, Reid apologized, Obama accepted, and GOP Chairman Michael Steele called for Reid to resign. Will the political firestorm over this bit of gossip blow over or become a problem for Democrats?

  • Tough Political 'Conundrum' For Dems  NBC's Chuck Todd evaluates. "Reid's made his share of gaffes but good grief. Dems have a real conundrum re: Reid. If he were NOT maj leader, there would be whispers a la Dodd to push him into retirement. But since he's majority leader, a retirement now would leave a leadership void w/Senate Dems at a crucial time for legislating. Also, the Dem bench is not that strong in Nevada, no obvious stand-in for an open SEN seat like there was in CT."

  • If He's Racist, Why'd He Support Obama?  The Nation's Melissa Harris Lacewell is skeptical that Reid's word choice trumps his support of the African-American candidate. "Sorry. Having hard time getting worked up on Reid. My fave kinda racism is the one where the white guy supports the black guy for POTUS."

Recommended Reading

  • Understanding The Word 'Negro'  The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates explored the word the day before the Reid story broke, pegging his discussion to the possibility that "negro" may become an option on the census. "Let me say with all the force that I can muster that, as black person/African-American, as someone whose father fought to secure our rights in this country, as someone who's suffered the cruel bite of racism, I am absolutely appalled...that the census hasn't done this sooner," he writes. "This decision by the Census Bureau will allow me to fulfill my lifelong ambition to become a 'Negro Writer.' I consider the category of 'black writer' limiting."

  • GOP Sees Opportunity For Dividing Dems  So forecasts Congressional Quarterly's John Stanton. "The GOP is hoping to put Democratic Congressional candidates across the country on the hot seat for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's (D-Nev.) use of racially charged language," he writes. "[T]he National Republican Senatorial Committee and GOP candidates are expected to try to either force Democratic candidates to distance themselves from Reid or run the risk of being tied to his comments."
  • Harry Reid Is Not Trent Lott  The Washington Monthly's Steve Benen is disturbed by comparisons to former Republican Sen. Majority Trent Lott, whose racially-charged statements contributed to his ouster from office. "I found Reid's comments disappointing, but there's really no comparison here. Not only is there the larger context to consider -- Lott had a history of disturbing racial issues -- but Lott specifically said the U.S. would not have had "all the problems" if it had elected a segregationist president in 1948. The two simply aren't comparable."
  • Harry Reid Is Creepy  That's Matthew Yglesias's take-away. "It’s good that Reid apologized, but at the same time you can’t really apologize for being the sort of person who’d be inclined to use the phrase 'negro dialect' and it’s more the idea of Reid being that kind of person that’s creepy here than anything else."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.