Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Game Change

They went over and over every thing that he said,
looking for ways to trap him with his own words.
Luke 11:54

The book goes on sale today, I think, but it has been preceded by a publicity campaign reminiscent of the Super Bowl. Hyperbole abounds. The book by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin is called “Game Change,” and it is their account of the 2008 election. An on line column in The Atlantic revealed a controversial conversation with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Noting that his encouragement of Senator Obama’s campaign was unwavering, they write:

He was wowed by Obama's oratorical gifts and believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate, especially one such as Obama -- a "light-skinned" African American "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one," as he said privately. Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination.

Comparing his remarks to those of Senator Trent Lott in 2002, critics on the right have called on Reid to resign, and decried the “double standard” that allows Black Democrats to support Reid, while they attacked Lott. I have two comments.

First, the remarks are very different. Trent Lott was speaking at the 100th birthday of Strom Thurmond, and in his birthday good wishes he recalled that his home state of Mississippi had voted for Thurmond when he ran for President in 1948 on a Segregationist platform, and said that the country would have been better off if Thurmond had been elected. He was speaking off the cuff and attempting to interject some light humor, but implying that we would be better off if the country were segregated is racist no matter how much he was reaching for humor. Reid, on the other hand, was commenting on the state of the country. In his opinion the country was ready to accept a Black President, especially one with an Ivy League education, whose manner and speech reflected that education. As President Obama said in accepting Reid’s apology, the remarks were clumsy, but not racist.

Second, it is not good for us as a nation to constantly “look for ways to trap” each other with our own words. I love words and I believe that words are important. But they are important because of the ideas they convey, not because “anything you say can and will be used against you . . . .” It serves no good purpose to play a constant and never-ending game of “gotcha.” We are focused on form rather than substance.

Cable news shows are filled with commentators asking other commentators to condemn the remarks of someone who shares their political perspective. Instead of talking about the ideas and issues themselves, we talk about what someone said about someone on one side or the other, and how this one or that one really ought to condemn the speaker in question.

Enough already. We need a real "Game Change."

Instead of talking about the very real problems of racism in America, we are talking about whether Harry Reid’s reference to “Negro dialect” means that he is a racist. A conversation on racism would be helpful. Deconstructing Harry Reid’s “inartful” comments is not.

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