Responding to Sen. Harry Reid's recently reported controversial comments about President Obama, numerous conservative media figures have accused Democrats of having a "double standard" regarding racially insensitive remarks made by Republicans, specifically citing the outrage over former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's past comments in support of Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist presidential campaign. But others -- including NPR's Cokie Roberts, Rev. Al Sharpton, and NAACP's Hilary Shelton -- have argued that the two comments are not comparable, because Reid was praising an African-American's advancement, whereas Lott was expressing support for a segregationist.
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Conservative media compare Reid's comments to Lott's, decry "double standard" because Democrats called for Lott resignation
2008: Reid reportedly said that he "believed that the country was ready to embrace a black presidential candidate" like Obama who is "a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect.' " In their book on the 2008 election, John Heilemann and Mark Halperin reported that Reid was enthusiastic about then-Sen. Obama's potential candidacy to challenge then-Sen. Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination. Heilemann and Halperin reported that Reid's "encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. 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 later put it privately." From Heilemann's and Halperin's Game Change:
Years later, Reid would claim that he was steadfastly neutral in the 2008 race; that he never chose sides between Barack and Hillary; that all he did was tell Obama that he "could be president," that "the stars could align for him." But at the time, in truth, his encouragement of Obama was unequivocal. 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 later put it privately.
Reid was convinced, in fact, that Obama's race would help him more than it hurt him in a bid for the Democratic nomination. (pages 35-36)
2002: Lott declared that the U.S. "wouldn't have had all these problems" if Thurmond's segregationist presidency campaign had been successful. In 2002, then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) reportedly said of Strom Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign -- which Thurmond conducted on a segregationist platform: "I want to say this about my state: When Strom Thurmond ran for president we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had of followed our lead we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." Lott resigned his leadership in 2002 following the comment, but Republicans elected him as Senate minority whip in 2006.
Steve Doocy: "It all comes down to this -- there's a double standard. Double standards exist." On the January 11 edition of Fox News' Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade stated that "everyone is pointing back to Trent Lott in 2002 when he made those comments" and noted that several Democrats --including Reid, Obama, and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) -- had called for Lott to step aside at the time. Later, co-host Steve Doocy asserted: "It all comes down to this: There's a double standard. Double standards exist. The same people who accepted Harry Reid's apology did not accept Trent Lott's apology. And email us right now. If a Republican made those comments, would they simply get away with an apology and everything would be accepted?"
Dana Perino: Democrats' reaction to Reid shows "that there is a clear double standard." Later in the show, after Doocy told Fox News contributor Dana Perino that Republicans are saying Reid should "get in trouble for this, because Trent Lott got in trouble for it and had to step down from his leadership role," Perino said, "What this shows is that there is a clear double standard. I wish there weren't double standards in the world, but there are, and I think it's instructive just for us to all be able to say one exists, and this is what it is. I do expect Republicans to try to push -- because, if you think back to Senator Lott's days, most people did not accept his apology on the Democratic side, with the groups. And then they wanted to ask him, 'OK, well fine, you apologized. But what did you mean by that?' And I think that is a fair question to ask Senator Reid as well."
Gretchen Carlson asked Perino if Democrats' calls for Lott's resignation could "come back to bite" them. Fox & Friends co-host Gretchen Carlson also brought up Landrieu's 2002 statement that "if a Democratic leader had said such a thing, they would not be able to keep their position." Carlson said she "hadn't seen any comments from Landrieu now in 2010" and asked Perino whether those "comments come back to bite some of these politicians who at one point, when it was not their party under attack, they thought it was not a good idea." Perino said it "further erodes the credibility and trust that the American people have in Congress as a whole" and that "everybody can see now just how blatant the double standard is."
Buchanan: "Sure, there's a double standard, and Trent Lott was presumed guilty because he's a Republican conservative from Mississippi." Discussing Obama's response to Reid's comments on the January 11 edition of MSNBC's Morning Joe, co-host Joe Scarborough said to MSNBC contributor Pat Buchanan that "a Republican would not survive saying such a thing," and Buchanan responded, "Sure, there's a double standard, and Trent Lott was presumed guilty because he's a Republican conservative from Mississippi."
BigGovernment.com: "Rigid orthodoxy has been coupled with blinding hypocrisy." In a post on BigGovernment.com, Lurita Doan wrote that "[r]igid orthodoxy has been coupled with blinding hypocrisy. When Senator Trent Lot made some inappropriate remarks on race, he was hounded from office. And yet, when Senator Harry Reid voiced narrow-minded, inappropriate racial stereotypes, the response from the very same posse, that pursued Trent Lott with pitchforks and glee, is now far more conciliatory." She added that "[t]he unmistakable message here is that there are two very different standards."
RedState asked why Reid gets "to keep his job" when Lott didn't. In a January 11 post on RedState.com, contributor "haystack" wrote that "Democrats were quick to tie the segregationist element of Thurmond around Lott's neck (rather than the State's rights element) and summarily had Lott tarred, feathered, effigied, and FIRED from his leadership position in the US Senate." He then asked, "How, then, does Harry Reid get to keep his job when he sees the quality of African Americans according to their skin tone and linguistic prowess?"
Hot Air's Morrissey notes Lott and asks, "Will this more explicit insult create any consequences for Reid?" In a January 9 post on HotAir.com, Ed Morrissey wrote, "When Trent Lott made a foolish statement at Strom Thurmond's birthday party about his presidential run on a segregation tick, the media outcry forced Lott to resign his leadership position. Will this more explicit insult create any consequences for Reid?" Morrissey also highlighted Obama's 2002 call for Lott to resign as "kindling on the flames of hypocrisy."
Media figures, NAACP, Sharpton say the two are not comparable
Al Sharpton: "What Harry Reid said is nowhere near comparable to saying you wish a segregationist had been the president." On Fox & Friends, Sharpton said Reid's words were "very poorly chosen" but that his comments are "nowhere near comparable" to Lott's because Lott "commended a Dixiecrat for running for office, who left the Democratic Party to run to fight integration." From the January 11 broadcast of Fox & Friends:
SHARPTON: I was offended by the reference of "negro dialect." I think, though, to say that what he said is anywhere near comparable as your last guest, to what Trent Lott said, is insulting to the intelligence of the American people. Trent Lott commended a Dixiecrat for running for office, who left the Democratic Party to run to fight integration. How do you compare Trent Lott saying that I wish this guy -- we'd had those days where blacks would have been at the back of the bus, because that's what the guy was running on -- to a guy saying why a black could be elected president.
Now, he said it in an insensitive way, but he's electing a black president, compared to a guy that was saying, "I wish this guy would have won that would have kept blacks in segregation." I mean, come on. This is outrageous.
DOOCY: Do you see -- do you see when people say, well, there's clearly a double standard, because all the Democrats just said, OK, we apologize -- you apologized --
SHARPTON: How could it be a double standard when you're comparing something that is an offensive, race-based analysis --
DOOCY: But remember, you just said you found his comment to be offensive.
SHARPTON: If you said to me, Reverend Sharpton, you are a word -- and used the racial term -- that's racist and offensive. If you said Reverend Sharpton, you've been overweight, I would be offended, but it's not the same thing. What Harry Reid said is nowhere near comparable to saying you wish a segregationist had been the president. In fact, he was saying the opposite. He was talking about why a black could be the president.
Jonathan Capehart: People making Reid-Lott comparisons are "getting it all wrong." On MSNBC's Way too Early, Washington Post editorial writer Jonathan Capehart similarly argued that people comparing Reid's comments to Lott's are "getting it all wrong. Strom Thurmond was a segregationist candidate. Senator Lott at the time said -- was seen whispering that we wouldn't have had all these problems if Strom Thurmond had won that presidential election. That has all sorts of negative implications for the country, and particularly for African-Americans. So, you know, Harry Reid is guilty of stupid language, of insensitive language, and actually ignorant language, but for him to have to resign over this, I think, goes way too far."
Cokie Roberts said Reid's comments "very different" from Lott's. On the January 11 edition of NPR's Fresh Air, senior news analyst Cokie Roberts said, despite "Republicans comparing [Reid's comments] to remarks that then-Republican Majority Leader Trent Lott made," the comments were "very different" because Lott's comments were "made about how the world might have been better if Strom Thurmond, a segregationist at the time, had been elected president."
New York Times quoted Harvard Law professor Guinier saying comments are "not in the least bit comparable." In a January 11 article, The New York Times quoted Lani Guinier, "the Harvard Law School professor whose nomination as assistant attorney general for civil rights in 1993 was pummeled by conservative groups and eventually withdrawn by President Bill Clinton," as saying the comments are "not in the least bit comparable." From the article:
Mr. Lott's remarks, Ms. Guinier said, seemed to be expressing nostalgia for the segregationist platform of Mr. Thurmond's 1948 presidential campaign, while Mr. Reid comments seemed to be addressing "an unfortunate truth about the present." That truth, she said, is that Mr. Obama would have had a more difficult time getting elected if his skin were darker and if he spoke in a dialect more identifiable as "black."
NAACP's Shelton: "Lott was actually supporting and embracing the agenda of Strom Thurmond, which was a segregation agenda." On the January 11 edition of Fox News' America's Newsroom, NAACP Washington bureau director Hilary Shelton said Lott's and Reid's comments are not the same because "Lott was actually supporting and embracing the agenda of Strom Thurmond, which was a segregationist agenda as he ran for president as a Dixiecrat. For him to hold those up and say, 'I wish I'd been able to support him, if he had become president our country will be a better place on a race relations issue,' raises some major concerns. Harry Reid, on the other hand, is someone that has fought for racial inclusion. He's fought for fairness, and he's fought for democracy for all Americans, regardless of race, gender, or ethnicity -- to the point he's even put his political career on the line to take some very courageous positions."