N.Y. Times, Aug. 9, 2013
By Andrew Rosenthal
Despite all the politicians who call themselves straight talkers, there is little that makes official Washington queasier than straight talk. And so it was today when Senator Harry Reid, the Majority Leader, dared to suggest that there might just be a racial tinge to the Republicans’ wild-eyed outrage over just about everything President Obama says and their implacable opposition to just about everything he does or wants to do.
“It’s been obvious that they’re doing everything they can to make him fail,” Mr. Reid said in an interview on KNPR Radio. “And I hope, I hope — and I say this seriously — I hope that’s based on substance and not the fact that he’s African American.”
The Nevada senator recalled: “My counterpart, Mitch McConnell, said at the beginning of the presidency of Barack Obama that he had one goal — and that is to defeat Obama and make sure he wasn’t re-elected. And that’s how they legislate in the Senate. It was really bad. And we’re now seven months into this second term of the president’s and they haven’t changed much.”
The G.O.P.’s reaction was predictably furious. Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, said on Twitter that Mr. Reid’s comments were “offensive and insane.”
But Mr. Reid was just putting into words what many, many people have felt. Including me.
Note to Twitter: I am not saying every Republican is a racist. That would be flat wrong, just as it would be wrong to say that no Democrats are racists. Opposing Mr. Obama’s policies does not automatically make anyone racist.
What I am saying is that I suspect — apparently along with Mr. Reid — that a white president with the exact same plans and ideas would not have encountered the same kind of fierce opposition.
Certainly a white president wouldn’t have had to deal with the “birther” movement. And while that conspiracy theory didn’t originate in the House or the Senate, Republican lawmakers have fanned the flames. Many have refused to denounce it. Others have actually encouraged it. I wrote a few days ago about Rep. Ted Yoho, Republican of Florida, who said he’d consider supporting an investigation into the validity of the president’s birth certificate.
There is no way other than racism to explain “birtherism.” The whole point is to make Mr. Obama the menacing “other,” to remind everyone that he is African American.
Nor is it “insane” to detect a racial undercurrent to the incredible disrespect that’s been shown to this president over the years. Remember when the president addressed Congress in 2009, and Rep. Joe Wilson yelled “you lie!” Then-House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said “I have never in my 29 years heard an outburst of that nature with reference to a president of the United States, speaking as a guest of the House and Senate.” Would that have happened to a white president?
There is no doubt that Mr. Reid is going to get hammered for this remark. It did not fit into the usual definition of a “gaffe,” but it certainly fit the spirit of what the political journalist Michael Kinsley had in mind when he said “A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth.”
© 2013 New York Times