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Racial Inequality

In December 2002, Senator Trent Lott (R-Mississippi) placed his foot squarely in his mouth when he said at the party celebrating Senator Strom Thurman’s 100th birthday:

I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We’re proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years, either.

The media tirade was relentless against Lott. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson called for Lott to resign, and former Vice President Al Gore told CNN that the comment was “racist.” Issuing one of the harshest rebukes Lott had received, Gore said in an interview on CNN’s “Inside Politics” that Lott should apologize for his comments or face censure by the Senate.

Other Democrats similarly attacked Lott viciously for his racist comments, and rightly so. And also rightly so, he stepped down as Senate Majority Leader nearly two weeks later.

Fast forward eight years, and current Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) finds himself at the center of a similar controversy. In the book Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, Reid is reportedly on record as saying that Obama stood a good chance to win the election because he was “light-skinned with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”

Yet the Democrats who found Lott’s comments so despicable are having no problem stomaching Harry Reid’s statement.

In fact, Democrats have leaped to the aid of Senator Reid, fifty-two percent of whose constituents have an unfavorable opinion of him and 33 percent had a favorable view:

• Former Rep. Harold Ford, an African-American who is chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, called Reid’s remarks “an unusual set of words.” In an interview today on NBC’s “Today” show, Ford said “I don’t believe in any way Harry Reid had any racial animus. I think there’s an important distinction between he and Trent Lott…I think he has a (civil rights) record you can point to.”

• Attorney General Eric Holder told The Associated Press in an interview today that Reid is a good man, saying that “I don’t think that there is a prejudiced bone in his body.”

• Democratic Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island rejected comparisons to the Lott episode. “I think that’s a totally different context. Harry Reid made a misstatement,” Reed said. “He owned up to it. He apologized. I think he is mortified by the statement he’s made. And I don’t think he should step down.”

• Rep. Barbara Lee, chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, released a statement saying, “Senator Reid’s record provides a stark contrast to actions of Republicans to block legislation that would benefit poor and minority communities — most recently reflected in Republican opposition to the health bill now under consideration.”

I have to tell you, this stinks of hypocrisy to me. While both GOP head Michael Steele and Senator John Cornyn (R-Texas) have called for Reid’s resignation and point to the double standard being applied to him, for me it isn’t for a political win that Reid should resign.

It may surprise many of you to learn that I am not a Republican. I am a registered Democratic.

And it is for that reason that I believe Reid should resign.

In my eyes, his comments were far worse than those of Lott. They were blatantly racist in nature. And while I believe that Senator Reid is a good man without a single racist bone in his body, he undermines the traditional principles of equal rights and civil rights that are at the heart of the Democratic Party.

To brush away the comments by his apologizing to President Obama or by others saying Reid has a civil rights record harms the great history of the Democratic Party in standing for individual rights, civil rights, and human rights.

“Well, we’ll let his racist comments slide because he has a good civil rights record” is not a message the Democratic Party should be sending.

In fact, it paints the entire Democratic Party as hypocrites: we’ll sink a Republican over his comments, but a Democrat with air cover from us and a decent civil rights record can slide by.

When it comes to race issues, especially in a post-Obama election United States, no one should get a pass.

The Reid incident raises a fundamental question of identity for Democrats: which matters more to us, holding on to a seat or holding on to our principles and values?

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