Despite Politico’s best efforts to convince us otherwise, there’s a world of difference between Harry Reid (D-NV)’s admittedly racist line and Trent Lott’s career-ending gaffe. The former betrays a deep ignorance about how African Americans and indeed all Americans define themselves, and wish to be defined — not by the color of their skin, or their dialect, but by their individual merit — but the latter is an entirely different beast. Lest we forget:
LOTT: 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.
Reid showed a lack of personal tact and grace, as well as a concerning willingness to essentialize class traits. But Lott openly supported a segregationist, for his policies as a segregationist. Nothing more, nothing less. Thurmond ran on a platform that put segregation as its #4 plank — it’s the first hard policy part of the platform.
Query whether we should, but we can forgive Reid’s human ignorance. We cannot, and indeed must not, forgive an ignorance so complete that it would ignore a full half-century of progress, and cast an entire race of fellow citizens into the dust.