GOP operatives are again falling on their noses trying to be more PC than the Democrats. Their war on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for saying in a private that president Obama was well-positioned in 2008 because he is “a light-skinned African American with no Negro dialect unless he wanted to have one” has turned into something truly tasteless. Although Reid apologized to the President for his “poor choice of words,” there was nothing outrageous in what he said, particularly since it came out in a private conversation. I heard quite a few observations similar to his from my impeccably leftist academic associates during the presidential campaign. Despite his left-leaning position as a senator, lots of Americans, I was told, would vote for candidate Obama because he seemed like a non-threatening black. White voters would feel good about themselves if they had the chance to vote for such a pleasant-sounding black candidate.
I’ve no idea why anyone but a PC exhibitionist who is straining hard to win minority votes could take offense at Reid’s remarks. Black spokesmen such as Al Sharpton and Congressman Charles Rangel, who are known to scream racism at the drop of a pin, seem unfazed by his comments. Both urged Americans to forget about this alleged insult and to pass the health care plan. Admittedly such figures are highly partisan Democrats, but I have to agree with them about the silliness of the GOP’s reaction to Reid’s comments, which were made to personal friends.
Now we have Republican senators John Cornyn of Texas and Republican National Committee chairman Michael Steele demanding that Reid step down as Senate majority leader because, in Cornyn’s words, he had made remarks that were “embarrassing and racially insensitive.” Lynne Cheney, daughter of the former vice-president, has been on TV deploring Reid’s reference to “skin color.” Meanwhile Steele, who has been popping on to Fox News since the story surfaced, can’t contain his rage that “Democrats feel they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from mouths of their own.” Steele’s apparent indignation may explain his verbal ineptitude as a critic of Reid. But unfortunately for this black Republican chairman, most other blacks don’t seem to care about the senator’s remarks. It’s the party that the overwhelming majority of black voters reject that is fuming over Democratic insensitivity to American blacks.
We are reminded that in 2002 Republican leaders pressed the Senate majority leader Trent Lott of Mississippi into stepping down, after Lott had praised the presidential campaign of long-time South Carolina Senator Strom Thurmond at Thurmond’s 100th-birthday celebration. When Thurmond had run for the presidency back in 1948, he had been a Dixiecrat opposed to the integration of the races. Although there was nothing in Lott’s remarks to suggest that he approved of segregation and although there was nothing in Thurmond’s career for decades to suggest that he was still a segregationist (many of his voters from the 1970s on were black), Lott was seen to have crossed the line by flattering the centenarian Thurmond. He therefore had to go as Senate majority leader. This decision was reached after neoconservative columnists had gone after Lott for ignoring “the most important event,” at least in Charles Krauthammer’s life, “the civil rights revolution.”
The GOP was acting on its own when it humiliated Lott. It could have abstained then from playing the PC card and have left the Mississippi senator in his place. That it chose to act differently was its own decision; and certainly it was not a decision that it increased its share of the black vote since 2002. The man whom Lott was humoring, Senator Thurmond, won a far higher percentage of the black vote in South Carolina than the super-sensitive GOP has managed to pick up just about anywhere for the last decade. But then Thurmond traded in favors, not by raising the PC ante.
What the GOP is doing will have dire consequences, beyond the richly deserved fate of making the party look foolish. It will stifle the freedom to engage in honest political discussion, an activity that the attack on Reid and before that on Lott is going to make more difficult. As the “sensitivity” net widens and as unauthorized questions about race, gender, and lifestyle are put outside the limits of “sensitive” dialogue, we will suffer as an already diminished free society. While there is plenty of blame to go around for this situation, the GOP has done its part here, in its desperate hunger for minority votes. As a right-of-center party, which it sometimes claims to be, it should be fighting for economic freedom, distributed governing powers, and an end to the war against discrimination, understood as making us all speak like graduates of a multicultural indoctrination session. Now the GOP has moved out in front as an advocate of left-wing thought and speech control. The campaign against Reid illustrates its new role.