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Harry, Harry, Quite Contrary

January 10, 2010
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Now that Harry “Christmas” Reid can’t own a football team or be a Republican or survive in a world of post-1960s societal discourse, it’s interesting to see what everybody has to say about it.  Michael Steele continued his pilgrimage through the looking glass in calling for Harry to step down from his majority leader position, despite his own “Honest Injun” boo-boo on the air the other day (to his credit, he did qualify his desire for Reid to step down as contingent on Trent Lott’s being the standard-bearer).  Al Sharpton’s response was just as dastardly hollow as anyone would have expected—he, of course, lamented that this unfortunate incident “distract America from its continued focus on securing healthcare or creating jobs for its people”.  Melissa Harris Lacewell lampooned cries of racism because Harry voted for the President and that makes it impossible for him to be a racist (ha ha ha ha!).  George Will said there was not one “scintilla” of racism in Reid’s remarks, and Liz Cheney countered by saying these were “clearly racist comments” because Harry was “talking about the color of the president’s skin”. (That’s really all it takes?  Gee, thanks for the heads up, Liz.)  The President himself has “accepted Harry’s apology without question”, presumably because he needs him to pass his unpopular health-care bill.  Yglesias, in the words of Steyn, “tiptoes ever so tentatively toward the heart of it”:

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.

Well, yeah.  That’s why Sonia Sotomayor’s and Joe Biden’s gaffes aren’t simply “poor choice[s] of words”,  they’re reflections of how they view racial aspects of society.  Biden really does think that the President is “first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”, and Harry Reid was probably surprised that the President doesn’t speak in that ol’ “negro dialect”, whatever that means.  It’s not that they’re racists, they’re just old.  Harry Reid is 70 years old.  I didn’t even know that until yesterday.  Look at that sentence again.  He’s been around since the forties.  You know how everybody has that “racist” uncle that doesn’t really say anything disparaging about black people, but he just sounds out of tune with contemporary discourse (and would be harangued by liberals if he were a conservative public figure) because he says things like “nigra” or “colored boy”?  That’s probably what Harry Reid’s like.  I bet he just hasn’t overhauled his vocabulary since the mid-1950s.

That said, the double standard here is so glaring as to be impossible to overlook.  Really, if any Republican said something like this, he’d be run out of town on a bloody rail.  The level of racial discourse really has to be raised in our society—does the Senate Majority leader really need to “step down” because, as George Will noted, he said things that were true? (His skin is of a fairer tone than some other black people, and he speaks in a pretty standard American accent, which as far as I know is not  “negro dialect”).  Is it racist to presume that something of a “negro dialect” even exists?  Maybe, until you consider that it was probably a consensus back in Harry Reid’s prime that there was one and he has been too busy transforming America to get around to any lexical updates.  But even if he were contemporarily aware, if you automatically assume anybody from the North has an awful Yankee dialect (which I do), that shouldn’t automatically make me some gun-toting religion-clinging Klansman (unless you’re prejudiced against the South and/or a big ol’ hypocrite).  Speaking of which, the only Klansman I’m even aware of is in the United States Senate—it’s the Democrat Robert Byrd!  I mean, he was a Kleagle!  There’s your story, folks.

So, to recap: Shut up, Michael Steele.  I’ll say that again, just so everyone gets it: Shut up, Michael Steele.  That is all.

P.S. Joe, Harry’s got some ammo left over for you, too.

UPDATE: Ed Morrissey disagrees with the anti-Steele sentiment, writing that “the GOP is fortunate to have Steele in position to make the Democratic dishonesty on race apparent.”  Okay, but Steele’s constant blundering on other things (people in his own party are “scared of him”, the Medicare bill of rights, apologizing to Rush Limbaugh) makes it apparent that the only reason he was appointed to the chairmanship in the first place was for times like these, which happen once a year, and that’s all.  That is, besides the Lacewell argument above–Republicans can’t be racist if the head of the RNC is black!

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