The Powerline blog cuts through the demented bullshit on this story:
Michael Steele was on the Sunday news programs comparing the reaction to Harry Reid's comments about Barack Obama -- "light-skinned" and with "no Negro dialect unless he want[s] to have one" -- to the comments that got Trent Lott in trouble. Back in 2002, during a birthday celebration for Strom Thurmond, Lott spoke favorably about Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign. Lott promptly apologized, but was forced to step down as leader of Senate Republicans. Steele said:
"There is this standard where the Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own. But if it comes from anyone else, it's racism. It's either racist or it's not. And it's inappropriate, absolutely."
Steele is correct that there is a double standard in these matters, but he and many others are wrong to equate Reid's comment with Lott's. Trent Lott lauded the presidential candidacy of an avowed segregrationist, suggesting that things would have gone better if that candidate had been elected. His comments were normative and, if he meant what he said, racist because they implied that segregration was preferable to integration. We condemned Lott at the time.
Reid was not discussing who should be elected president. He was merely commenting on Barack Obama's viability as a presidential candidate. His view was that Obama's race would not hurt him with voters who might be disinclined to elect a black man because he is light-skinned and able to talk white, as they say. I strongly suspect that many politicians and pundits made similar sorts of assessments. Even if they are incorrect, they are legitimate, provided one is assessing how others might vote, as opposed to deciding to vote one's self.
Reid's analysis was a bit crude. The main thing that differentiated Obama from unsuccessful candidates like Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton was his ability to employ moderate-sounding rhetoric, not his skin-tone and "dialect." But it isn't racist to believe that these two characteristics would also help Obama, as indeed they may have done.
Reid's problem is that it's in everyone's interests to find his remarks highly offensive. Conservatives and Republicans will seize on anything in order to beat up on Reid. Blacks and leftists see this as another opportunty to assert their control over the way people are permitted to talk about race. Liberals need to stay on the good side of blacks and so find it more convenient to condemn Reid's statement but forgive the man then to thumb their noses at political correctness.
I have no sympathy for Harry Reid, but I hate to see the liberal speech police have their way, and dislike seeing conservatives taking the lead in the process.