What the Reid Incident Shows about the GOP’s Racial Outlook

The conservative high dudgeon about Harry Reid’s 2006 comments on Obama’s electoral prospects is flatly ridiculous (though if you want to read more, check out Mark Kleiman here or read George Will denouncing it here). Still, these paragraphs from Dave Weigel’s write-up are pretty revealing about the GOP’s views on race.

The White House immediately leaped to Reid’s defense, but for Republicans, this was manna from heaven. The National Republican Senatorial Committee blasted out three press releases on Reid’s “embarrassing” secondhand quotes. “For those who hope to one day live in a color-blind nation,” said NRSC spokesman Brian Walsh, “it appears Harry Reid is more than a few steps behind them.” On Sunday, after no Democrats had stepped out to criticize Reid, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele rebounded from a tough week of attacks on his extracurricular book tour by demanding that Reid resign as Senate majority leader.

This is a curious straw man. I’m pretty sure most liberals explicitly don’t want to see a “color-blind” nation. Rather, it’s conservatives that generally prefer “color-blindness” because it ends racism in one fell rhetorical flourish. This, of course, frees conservative politicians from grappling from the fact that many of their policies are grossly disadvantageous to racial minorities.

Still, Republican strategists told TWI that the party was ill-positioned to do much more damage to Reid. The senator had defended himself with political cover from the president, the Congressional Black Caucus, and Rev. Al Sharpton. And the details of the Lott scandal might not bear scrutiny in a way that hurts Reid. In 2002, as the incoming Lieutenant Governor of Maryland, Steele called Lott a “compassionate and tolerant statesman” whose apologies were enough to save his job.

Right — and that’s probably been the most laughable and revealing aspect to this kerfuffle. When GOP strategists say the party is “ill-positioned to do much more damage to Reid,” what they mean is that Republicans don’t stand to gain politically from denouncing racism because people who tend to vote for Republicans care much less about racial inequality than they do the interests of wealthy white people.