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.
Reid apologized profusely, of course. And Barack Obama, no fool he, was quite magnanimous in accepting his apology:
"Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today. I accepted Harry's apology without question because I've known him for years, I've seen the passionate leadership he's shown on issues of social justice and I know what's in his heart. As far as I am concerned, the book is closed."
So I suppose we should close the book on this one, right? While I suppose it's churlish to bring up a few other examples, sometimes churlishness is its own reward, right? So let's remember that the Internet is forever. Here's Barack Obama, then an Illinois state senator, discussing Trent Lott's controversial comments made at Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party, back in 2002:
Illinois Senator Barack Obama (D-13th), who hosted WVON's Cliff Kelley Show, challenged the Republican Party to repudiate Lott's remarks and to call for his resignation as senate leader.
"It seems to be that we can forgive a 100-year-old senator for some of the indiscretion of his youth, but, what is more difficult to forgive is the current president of the U.S. Senate (Lott) suggesting we had been better off if we had followed a segregationist path in this country after all of the battles and fights for civil rights and all the work that we still have to do," said Obama.
He said: "The Republican Party itself has to drive out Trent Lott. If they have to stand for something, they have to stand up and say this is not the person we want representing our party."
But it would be churlish to point out that double-standard. After all, we know what's in Harry Reid's heart -- the President has vouched for him -- and he's always been quite fair to other African American public figures. Oh, wait:
MR. RUSSERT: Why couldn't you accept Clarence Thomas?
SEN. REID: I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written. I don't--I just don't think that he's done a good job as a Supreme Court justice.
Reid said that in 2005 on Meet the Press. When asked to elaborate on his remarks later on, his response was risible, as James Taranto pointed out at the time. I've italicized Reid's comments for clarity, and Justice Thomas's comments as well:
An alert reader points out that on the Dec. 26 episode of "Inside Politics," a little-watched CNN show, Reid actually did name such an opinion, at the request of host Ed Henry (we've corrected several obvious transcription errors here):
Henry: When you were asked on NBC's "Meet the Press" whether or not you could support Justice Thomas to be chief justice you said quote, "I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written." Could you name one of those opinions that you think is poorly written?
Reid: Oh sure, that's easy to do. You take the Hillside Dairy case. In that case you had a dissent written by Scalia and a dissent written by Thomas. There--it's like looking at an eighth-grade dissertation compared to somebody who just graduated from Harvard. Scalia's is well reasoned. He doesn't want to turn stare decisis precedent on its head. That's what Thomas wants to do. So yes, I think he has written a very poor opinion there and he's written other opinions that are not very good.
It's interesting to learn that in Nevada eighth-graders write dissertations; we guess that explains how Harry Reid got to be as erudite as he is. He must immerse himself deeply in legal scholarship to be familiar with a case like Hillside Dairy v. Lyons, which doesn't exactly rank up there with Marbury v. Madison, Brown v. Board of Education and Roe v. Wade among famous Supreme court rulings.
To be honest, we'd never even heard of Hillside Dairy until we read the CNN transcript, so we went and looked it up. It turns out to be a 2003 case about California milk regulation. Here is Thomas's opinion in full:
I join Parts I and III of the Court's opinion and respectfully dissent from Part II, which holds that §144 of the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform Act of 1996, 7 U.S.C. §7254, "does not clearly express an intent to insulate California's pricing and pooling laws from a Commerce Clause challenge." Ante, at 6-7. Although I agree that the Court of Appeals erred in its statutory analysis, I nevertheless would affirm its judgment on this claim because "[t]he negative Commerce Clause has no basis in the text of the Constitution, makes little sense, and has proved virtually unworkable in application," Camps Newfound/Owatonna, Inc. v. Town of Harrison, 520 U.S. 564, 610 (1997) (Thomas, J., dissenting), and, consequently, cannot serve as a basis for striking down a state statute.
Is that written at an eighth-grade level? We report, you decide.
Taranto asks a good question. As it happens, I have a son who is an 8th grader, the ever-erudite Benster. While he usually devotes most of his writing efforts to picking football games, I asked him if any 8th grader he knows would write a paragraph of this sort. Benster's response:
"Most 8th graders I know don't care much about agriculture, and the last time I checked no 8th grader has ever been on the High Court."
When in doubt, go to the source.
So can we infer that Harry Reid is a racist? Who knows? I don't know what's in his heart and frankly wouldn't want to venture any closer to analyze the matter. I suspect that Reid finds it pretty easy to criticize African-Americans, especially those who don't toe his particular line. He's hardly unusual that way. P. J. O'Rourke to Garrison Keillor, hardly ideological soulmates, have both argued that many liberals treat the people they love like hell.
A better question is this: should Harry Reid be held to the same standard as Trent Lott? And will he be held to the same standard? My take: Reid might be held to the same standard, but it's not necessarily the best thing for conservatives. Let's not kid ourselves -- having Harry Reid as the majority leader in the Senate is a gift that keeps on giving to those of us on the other side of the aisle. He's much more useful to Republicans as one of the key faces of the Democratic Party than he would be if he were relegated to the backbench with Lott. Keep fighting the good fight, Harry -- your failure is our success!