Monday, January 11, 2010

Reid gaffe makes for diverting Sunday morning chatter

Posted By on Mon, Jan 11, 2010 at 8:29 AM

click to enlarge Michael Steele

One of the most anticipated books from the 2008 presidential campaign, Game Change,  written by Time magazine’s Mark Halperin and New  York Magazine’s John Heilman is being published today.

There are a number of juicy excerpts that made the rounds this weekend (such as Ted Kennedy allegedly saying that  Bill Clinton had said of Barack Obama that, "a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee”).

But none had a bigger impact than the revelation of comments made by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid , calling Barack Obama as a "light-skinned" African-American who lacked a "Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."

Sunday morning, Republicans of all stripes fell over themselves calling for Reid's ouster, claiming if former GOP Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott could lose his gig over racially insensitive comments back in 2002, so should Harry.

The tag team of DNC Chair Tim Kaine and GOP kingpin Michael Steele took their act to Fox News Sunday and NBC’s Meet the Press to discuss the issue.

Kaine was in the unfortunate position of debating Steele on race.  He somewhat lamely tried to say that because the overall comments were made in the context of saying positive things about the Obama candidacy, it was no big thing.

Steele would have none of that.  It was perhaps the first time ever that an RNC Chair could speak with some moral authority on the matter.  He said Republicans were the victims of a vicious double standard when it comes to race, "There is this standard where Democrats feel they can say these things and apologize as long as it comes from one of their own," he said.  " And if it comes from somebody else, it’s racism."

Steele probably was correct in claiming that there is somewhat of a double standard when it comes to racially insensitive comments coming from Democrats or Republicans.  But that unfairness comes from an ugly legacy  (i.e., Richard Nixon’s “Southern Strategy”) that party leaders have always had to acknowledge.

Unfortunately Reid has had a series of remarks that other Democrats have winced at in the past (anyone remember when he said the Iraq war "was lost"?)  Reid reportedly called over 30 black leaders on Saturday apologizing,

The RNC on Saturday released comments that Reid made during the Lott controversy, such as  “If you tell ethnic jokes in the back room, it’s that much easier to say ethnic things publicly. I’ve always practiced how I play.”

But Washington D.C. Congressional delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, an African-American who represents an overwhelmingly black district,  was one of many Democrats who came to Reid's defense, saying,

"While Sen. Reid has been producing for African Americans, many of his critics were opposing him on these same issues.  Majority Leader Reid has a record. They do not. Words matter, but what matters most are the actions of a man whose committed career on our issues speaks for itself.”

Reid is already considered to be extremely vulnerable in his bid for re-election as the senior senator from Nevada.  His odds just got a little longer.

Meanwhile, race and the GOP is also a story this week when it come to Chairman Steele.  He was inundated with criticism last week for some recent perceived gaffes, but a new story in Politico reports that Republicans feel that because he is their first black leader, he can't be dumped this year.  The story reports that there will be no "no confidence" vote on Steele anytime soon by RNC officials, but:

Instead some of the leading members of the party are now saying that they hope Steele will rein himself in this year and then quietly step aside when his term expires next January.

"He will not be re-elected," predicted a senior and highly influential figure in GOP politics.  "He's be smart not to try to be reelected."

And, in the meantime, party members have a suggestion for Steele.

"Steele talks too much, raises too little, and needlessly wades into things he has no business commenting on," said a conservative GOP House member. "He needs to raise money for the party, not his wallet."

Interestingly, one big Republican who has come to Steele's defense this week is Newt Gingrich, who said in a speech last week that the fact that because Steele is so different than previous GOP chairs (Newt said the 'difference' was that Steele came from a blue state, was in the seminary, and oh yes, is black) is what lead so many in the rank and file to freak out about him:

“We have a lot of Republicans who don’t want to learn, don’t want to change, and don’t want to be told it was our fault. They’d like to think it was somebody else’s far. I’m a fan of Steele. I think he is learning, I think he is smart, and I think he ultimately will be a very important part of where we’re going.

I know Democrats like to chortle about Steele, but let's be honest: most voters don't give a rat's patootie about who the party chair is.  As the Jim Greer saga has shown, it's not a positive thing when there's too much attention being paid to him.

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