To Err Is Human, to Forgive Divine

By MichaelJames

Jan 9, 2010 6:57pm

"Harry Reid called me today and apologized for an unfortunate comment reported today," President Obama said in a statement 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."

The President was referring to comments Senate Majority Leader Reid, D-Nev., made in the book "Game Change," by John Heilemann and Mark Halperin, in which Reid is described as being "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."

The tidbit was first reported by The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder. Reid has since apologized publicly and privately to President Obama.

While I hesitate to walk through the minefield of trying to compare various individuals' racist remarks and attitudes, it may be worth comparing Mr. Obama's willingness to forgive.

In April 2007, then-Sen. Obama told me that NBC should fire Don Imus
for his "nappy-headed hos" reference to the Rutgers University women's basketball team, a comment for which Mr. Imus apologized profusely.

"I understand MSNBC has suspended Mr. Imus," Obama told ABC News, "but I would also say that there's nobody on my staff who would still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any ethnic group. And I would hope that NBC ends up having that same attitude."

Obama said he appeared once on Imus' show in 2005, and "I have no intention of returning."

"He didn't just cross the line," Obama said. "He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America. The notions that as young African-American women — who I hope will be athletes — that that somehow makes them less beautiful or less important. It was a degrading comment. It's one that I'm not interested in supporting."

The Dec. 12, 2002, issue of the Chicago Defender quoted then-state sen. Obama guest-hosting WVON's Cliff Kelley Show and calling for the Republican party to "drive out" then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., for saying of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond's segregationist 1948 presidential run as a Dixiecrat, "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 followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."

Lott had apologized as well.

"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," Obama 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."

Obviously every man has his own history and role in society, and you can judge for yourself whether there's anything inconsistent about President Obama's willingness to forgive on these issues.

Game Change also features, per Ambinder, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., upset about Bill Clinton "belittling Obama in a manner that deeply offended Kennedy. Recounting the conversation later to a friend, Teddy fumed that Clinton had said, A few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee."

Former President Clinton's office said the former president would have no comment.

-jpt

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