I have carefully weighed the words of Sen. Harry Reid, the president’s gracious pardon and the hyper-partisanship on both sides in responding to this latest gaffe. And I have concluded that Reid should resign, but not for the reasons that are usually cited.
Reid is the Democratic leader of the governing party in the United States. His un-artful use of words in describing Barack Obama’s electability is not his first try at offending the very constituents he serves. In fact, this latest brouhaha is bigger than race: It has to do with what we should all expect from our leaders. Reid has a glaring history of making insensitive remarks about race, culture, class and American military interests abroad.
The American people deserve better from the leader of the U.S. Senate. I can get over what Reid said about President Obama because what he said rings true in the minds of many whites and blacks. I have had private conversations with my friends where we have lamented about being called “articulate” or “different” because we are well-educated, upwardly mobile, black professionals.
In a century that started with a terrorist attack on American soil and ended in 2009 with record unemployment and home foreclosures, Americans (regardless of race) should demand leaders who respect the very people who elected them. Harry Reid and the rest of the motley crew up on Capitol Hill need to learn that “we the people” are their bosses, and we provide them with their big titles, jobs, salaries, health care, pensions and excellent lobbying prospects after their terms of office are done.
My friend and colleague at The Root, Omar Wasow, has it mostly right. He is correct that what Reid said about the president is, on its face, a truthful statement and one that many whites would agree with. There is no doubt that President Obama won the election in part because he was viewed by many of our fellow Americans as “exceptional”—“articulate,” “clean”—“a family man” and as an “acceptable Negro.” The president does not speak in a “Negro dialect,” but neither do any of the black professionals I know. Does that mean we aren’t black enough? Or that we have assimilated? I certainly hope not.
However, the difference is that, like former GOP Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (whom I, as a black Republican, blasted in the pages of the Washington Post Outlook section in 2002), Reid has been walking on a slippery slope of verbal stupidity for a while. Sen. Lott, who also had a penchant for gaffes and a questionable history as a Dixiecrat before he switched to the GOP, finally got caught red-handed with his remarks praising Sen. Strom Thurmond’s segregationist campaign in 1948. (Did I mention Thurmond had a black daughter that he later acknowledged?) The GOP rightly threw Lott to the political and media wolves and had him moved out of Senate leadership. This, from a party with less than 5 percent black support in the 2008 elections.
My point is that Reid’s remarks about the president are hardly his most offensive. His insult of average Americans and their families who come to our nation’s capital in the summer are far worse. Reid was heard saying, “You can always tell when it is summertime because you can smell the visitors. The visitors stand out in the high humidity, heat, and they sweat.” Frankly, this smacks of elitism and bad manners.
Then there were the tea-baggers and town hall protesters whom he called “evil mongers.” When asked about his remarks, Reid quipped, “I maybe could have been less descriptive.” Last summer, Reid told the Las Vegas Review Journal, “I hope you go out of business.” Given the state of the newspaper industry—and the high unemployment rate in Las Vegas—this wasn’t received very well by the locals. Reid’s office said he was just joking. “Sometimes, my humor doesn’t go over well,” Reid later told Politico. And his most ridiculous comment of all was on the Iraq War in 2007, when declared, “This war is lost.” Yes, this was said by the Senate majority leader, mouthing off while our troops were serving in the field and in harm’s way.
Reid is out of touch in ways that are too glaring to ignore any longer. For that reason and that reason alone, he should step down and retire from the Senate before the good people of Nevada throw him out—as all indicators suggest they will.
Sophia A. Nelson is a regular contributor to The Root.