The remarks by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev) that then-candidate Barack Obama could win the presidency because he was 'light skinned' and spoke publicly with 'no Negro dialect' may have been ill advised, but they do not compare with the endorsement by former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-Miss) of a campaign for the presidency that blatantly proposed a policy of racial segregation.
The difference is that Reid's remarks describe a reality. The United States is not, contrary to rumor, a "postracial" nation. Race still matters, unfortunately.
There is a cultural divide between the European-origin population, of any nationality, who came here voluntarily as immigrants and the descendants of slaves who were kidnapped and stripped of their original identity to the point that most blacks cannot identify exactly from which part of Africa their ancestors came. (Whites may think all Africans look alike, but there are profound ethnic and cultural differences among them: such differences exploded into vicious violence in Rwanda just a few years ago.)
Reid, the Democratic Party and even President Obama can be criticized for being spineless and acquiescing all too easily to the Republican goal of taking us all back to 1910—the worst that can be said for Democrats is that they are far too timidly pragmatic to achieve their promises.
In contrast, in 2002 Trent Lott said, "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 the years, either." That's not realism. Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 on the overtly segregationist "Dixiecrat" ticket, represented a racist point of view that by 2002 had been publicly repudiated by the overwhelming majority of Americans.
Lott clearly believed in efforts to roll back the social and racial clock.
Indeed, the dirty little secret about the Republicans is Richard Nixon's legacy: the "Southern strategy." This has an effort to peel off the South from the Democratic coalition after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In their speeches and positioning, Republicans have carefully broadcast a series of devious, coded nods and winks lending support to the region's enduring segregation.
Who can ever forget Republican presidential standard-bearer Ronald Reagan launching his national 1980 campaign in Philadelphia, Mississippi, where he emphasized "states' rights" (code for separatism and Jim Crow) just a few miles from the place civil rights workers were murdered in 1964. Surely the Klansmen recognized that Reagan was their boy, as he was.
That's the Republican Party of Trent Lott—and Uncle Toms like Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele.
It was Steele who compared Lott's Freudian slip revealing the quintessentially regressive philosophy of his party with the frank assessment by Reid that this country is still too racially divided to accept as a leader a black man with the color and speech that unmistakably remind all of the nation's original sin of slavery.