Yesterday, Republicans moved swiftly to make political hay of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) “racially-tinged” reference to Barack Obama as “light-skinned” with “no Negro dialect.” In an effort to stir the faux controversy, top conservatives claimed a “double standard” exists because former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) was forced from office for making segregationist comments, while Reid remains.
“If [Lott] should resign, then Harry Reid should,” Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-AZ) said. Karl Rove piled on: “If you didn’t accept Lott’s apology, to be consistent, wouldn’t have to reject Reid’s, as well?” RNC Chairman Michael Steele — who resisted calling for Lott’s ouster in 2002 — said “it is” right for Reid to step down, citing the Lott precedent.
Recall, Lott argued in 2002 that “we wouldn’t have had all these problems over all these years” had segregationist Strom Thurmond been elected President. Fox News contributor Juan Williams noted this morning, “I don’t think Barack Obama would be in the White House if we had a segregationist country. That’s a major, major difference.”
Republicans are reportedly trying to further the story by using Lott’s comments to “press reporters to ask Reid what he really meant.” Fox News is assisting that effort by compiling a graphic of all the Democratic Senators who criticized Lott. After displaying the graphic, Fox host Martha MacCallum pressed contributor Bob Beckel on whether there is a double standard, arguing that then-Sen. Obama said “Republicans need to rid themselves of Trent Lott.” Beckel responded by observing the key distinction in the two statements:
BECKEL: Let me just make this point: what Trent Lott said was a racist statement. When you said in the opening, Martha, that this was a comparable racial statement, it is not comparable at all! What Lott said was that he thought we should support Strom Thurmond when he was a segregationist running for President. Harry Reid used the word in a positive sense. It was a bad choice of words, but I mean the two of those make no connection between themselves.
MacCallum quickly retreated, acknowledging “I hear what you’re saying…when you look at the context of the statements, they are different.” Watch it:
“It brings tears to my eyes to listen to Republicans wake up and defend Barack Obama because he’s been attacked by Harry Reid,” Fox’s Beckel observed. “Give me a break! … You guys can’t make anything that you don’t turn into politics against Barack Obama and the Democrats.”
Update TPM’s Josh Marshall observes that the Lott comparison is “laughable,” recalling that Lott’s segregationist remark “suggested that he knew the implications exactly and believed them deeply.”
Update On MSNBC this morning, Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) claimed that “Trent Lott said something that was far more innocuous than the racially tinged comments that Sen. Reid made."