There should be no surprise that Republicans have raised a considerable dust storm about Harry Reid’s obnoxious private comments about Barack Obama. Democrats would do the same, if the situation were reversed, and often have. But it is just so much baloney to find moral equivalency between Reid’s support of a black man for President (in large part because Obama–light-skinned, militantly middle class–defied the racial caricature) and Trent Lott’s wistful regret that Strom Thurmond, a stone segregationist for most of his career, hadn’t been elected President. These sentiments, both crude, are at the opposite ends of the political spectrum: Reid stands for the ultimate symbol of racial equality, a black man as President; Lott would have voted for a candidate who wanted black people at the back of the bus.
Obviously, the Republican campaign won’t get Reid ousted–although it will hurt his tenuous re-election campaign in an increasingly non-white state. But, for what it’s worth, Lott’s comments shouldn’t have resulted in his defenestration, either. They were obnoxious, but affectionate hyperbole: the occasion was a party celebrating the ancient Thurmond’s career. In any case, we’ve had too many witch-hunts, too overheated a public arena, in recent years…and there’s serious work to be done.