From time to time, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has a knack for making provocative comments that infuriate Republicans. Friday offers just such an example.
“My counterpart, Mitch McConnell, said at the beginning of the presidency of Barack Obama that he had one goal – and that is to defeat Obama and make sure he wasn’t re-elected. And that’s how they legislate in the Senate,” he said. “It was really bad. And we’re now seven months into this second term of the president’s and they haven’t changed much.”
“It’s been obvious that they’re doing everything they can to make him fail,” Reid said. “And I hope, I hope – and I say this seriously – I hope that’s based on substance and not the fact that he’s African American.”
The suggestion that Republicans might be motivated by racism – as opposed to, say, the party’s radicalism and ideological extremism – was not well received. The National Republican Senatorial Committee called Reid’s comments “insane,” and South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott, Congress’ only African-American Republican urged Reid to “apologize” for his “offensive” remarks.
As a rule, Reid’s comments are not the way I like to see the discourse work. If leading Democrats have examples of Republicans using racism to attack President Obama – examples that come up more often than they should – Dems should say so. Passive-aggressive trolling, and “hopes” that Republicans aren’t racist, isn’t constructive.
That said, whether you find Reid’s approach inappropriate or not, it’s worth noting he’s playing the game by Republican rules. Indeed, let’s take a brief stroll down memory lane, pointing to some incidents from the Bush/Cheney era that the political world may not recall.
As long-time readers may recall, Republicans in the last decade had quite an annoying habit: when Democrats took positions the GOP didn’t like, Republicans routinely accused Dems of bigotry and discrimination.
When Harriet Miers’ Supreme Court nomination came under fire, Republicans suggested Democrats, including Democratic women, were being sexist.
When Bill Pryor’s nomination to the 11th Circuit drew opposition, Republicans suggested Democrats, including Catholic Democrats, were anti-Catholic.
When Miguel Estrada’s D.C. Circuit nomination drew opposition, Republicans suggested Democrats were anti-Hispanic.
When Samuel Alito’s Supreme Court nomination was criticized, Republicans suggested his liberal opponents don’t like Italian-Americans.
When Janice Rogers Brown D.C. Circuit nomination came under fire, Republicans suggested Democrats were racists.
When Lurita Doan of the General Services Administration appeared to violate the Hatch Act at Karl Rove’s behest, Republicans accused Democrats of not liking conservative women.
In each of these instances, Democrats had specific, substantive concerns, but for Republicans, it was easier to accuse Democrats, without proof or decency, of being motivated by bigotry.
To clarify, this isn’t a defense for Reid’s comments, which I don’t think he should have made – leaders should call out racism, not hope aloud that a party isn’t being racist. But before Republicans complain too loudly about Reid’s rhetoric, I hope they’ll take a moment to realize he very likely learned this approach to identity politics by watching them.