While President Obama declared "the book is closed" on Harry Reid's past "negro dialect" comment, Republicans are using the imbroglio to reopen the book on the disgraced Trent Lott. On Sunday, RNC chairman Michael Steele and Arizona Senator Jon Kyl insisted Reid should resign his post as Senate Majority Leader like Trent Lott before him.
Sadly for the Republicans, there is no double standard at work here. Trent Lott didn't merely lavish praise on the legendary racist and segregation stalwart Strom Thurmond. Lott's 2002 reminder that the old times there are not forgotten capped a career of neo-Confederate nostalgia.
Pressured by the Bush White House (as the New York Times detailed at the time), Lott in December 2002 resigned his Senate Majority Leadership post following his public hagiography of Dixiecrat and staunch segregationist Strom Thurmond:
"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."
But as I noted in "A Confederacy of Dunces," Lott has been very clear in myriad other ways that he wasn't just whistling Dixie:
Lott was a speaker in 1992 at an event of the Council of Conservative Citizens, a successor to the White Citizens' Councils of Jim Crow days. Among its offerings in seething racial hatred is a "Wanted" poster of Abraham Lincoln. Lott's also offered his rebel yell in the virulently neo-Confederate Southern Partisan, where in 1984 he called the Civil War "the war of aggression."
Still, as Michael Steele himself would probably suggest, you can't blame a brother for trying. As the AP reported:
"There is this standard where the Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own. But if it comes from anyone else, it's racism," said Steele, who is black. "It's either racist or it's not. And it's inappropriate, absolutely."
Arizona Republican Jon Kyl concurred with Steele's assessment that "The reality of it is this, there is this standard where Democrats feel they can say these things and apologize as long as it comes from one of their own, and if it comes from somebody else, it's racism." As Politico reported in a hyperbolic story titled, "Reid fights for political life":
Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) , the second ranking Republican in Senate, also pointed to a "double standard" in how Democrats have treated Reid as compared to Lott.
"If he should resign, then Harry Reid should," Kyl said on Fox. "If they apologize and you know what is in their heart, my feeling is they shouldn't but in this case he should."
For their part, Democrats including Jack Reed (D-RI), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), James Clyburn (D-DC), Thurmond's distant relative Al Sharpton and the President rushed to Reid's defense, with Obama noting, "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."
In contrast, Trent Lott's passion apparently was a fondness for the ante bellum South.
Which brings us back to today's laughable Republican claim of a "double standard" for Trent Lott. As Lott and a host of other Republican neo-Confederates like George Allen, Matt Blunt, Haley Barbour, Jim Demint, John Ashcroft and (more recently) Mike Huckabee show, the GOP is credible on issues of race and social justice in much the same way that bricks float.
Nevertheless, the embattled Michael Steele will doubtless keep up his campaign against Harry Reid. As Steele might put it, "Well, the brother is still here, kicking, you know?"
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)