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Tale of two senators 

No amount of hypocrisy or insincerity will keep Republican campaigners from their appointed rounds of trashing Democrats.

Last week, a gossipy, anonymously sourced compilation of sometimes third-hand remarks about the 2008 presidential campaign got a lot of TV play. The book by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, among others, quoted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid as having privately said of candidate Barack Obama that he was “light-skinned” and had “no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

When outed, Reid, who said he thought he'd been talking off the record, apologized. He was an early Obama supporter and had been listing his political strengths. His main sin, in the eyes of critics, seems to be his use of the no-longer-politically-correct word Negro. Let us be honest. Obama's lack of “blackness,” if that's a word, was much discussed. It was even said that it caused some initial coolness to him in the black community – soon overcome with Bill Clinton's help.

Republicans, of course, pounced, because Reid is the lightning rod for health legislation. They drew a parallel to former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's fall from grace in 2002 on account of racial politics. The Republican senatorial campaign committee blasted Sen. Blanche Lincoln for not calling for Harry Reid's scalp though she'd criticized Lott.

Let's review: Harry Reid said privately that Obama might fare well with some voters because he looked and sounded whiter than some black people. It's an uncomfortable idea to think about, much less to hear articulated with a now unacceptable word like Negro (as in United Negro College Fund). It is uncomfortable, also, because it happens to be true. It's not all about skin color, but also about speech, education, clothing and bearing. Many white people are more comfortable with Barack Obama than with Lil Wayne. (Some black people, too, I'd bet.)

Now Trent Lott. He said, at a public gathering of the like-minded, that if segregationist Strom Thurmond had been elected  president on the Dixiecrat ticket in 1948, the U.S. would have avoided all the “problems” it has experienced since. An endorsement of a segregationist presidential candidacy was bad enough, but Lott's context made it worse. Lott was a dogged opponent of civil rights legislation. He was a politician with a record of friendship with radical neo-Confederate types. If only Dixie had risen again in '48, Lott seemed to  be suggesting, the colored people (as in NAACP) would have been kept in their place.

Only a Republican deaf to hypocrisy could ignore the obvious difference. I leave it to you to consider the record of the Republican Party's affection for people of color – black, brown and red – for the last half-century. GOP voting patterns, elected representatives, state party leadership, opinions on people and issues and legislative history do not constitute an interracial Valentine.

The feigned outrage over Harry Reid's latest bout of foot-in-mouth disease would be laughable were it not also somewhat effective political propaganda.

 

CORRECTION: Relying on an account in another newspaper, I wrote in my last column that Little Rock garbage men make $7 to $9 an hour. Their lowest pay, said City Manager Bruce Moore, is a little over $11 an hour.  The premise of the column is unchanged. Some of the lowest paid workers in the city have been asked to take a pay freeze or been laid off while city taxpayers' subsidy of the unaccountable, private Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce was not cut.

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