a 'light-skinned' African American 'with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one
I think the problem here is that this exposes the political hypocrisy to which race and racism has devolved. Without defending the idiocy that has been perpetrated by Republicans in equal measure, the refusal of Democrats and leading African-Americans to condemn either the comments or the speaker lend a great deal of credence to the belief that racism has become nothing more than a political tool for Democrats to abuse Republicans. George Allen in Virginia during the 2006 Senate campaign with his "macaca" comment and Trent Lott's commentary on Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday celebration in 2002 are two of the more egregious examples by the Republicans in recent memory and both were pilloried by their Democratic opponents and subsequently lost their positions of authority. Indeed, there was no shortage of commentators, leaders and supporters from the left of the political spectrum who rose up indignantly and shouted for some form of punishment to be inflicted upon the two of them.
And that is all reasonable when the same standards are applied to the idiots on the left who make similarly embarrassing gaffes. The problem that arises here are the double standards that are clearly evident. The racist card is to be applied to your political opponents to ensure that they are labeled as such and to establish the moral high ground for your own side of any debate. But when your side makes comments that are clearly racist, then it is best to find some other way of deflecting attention away or defending them in the hope of "the greater good". The problem is that, by doing so, you then minimize the injustice of the racism that clearly does exist (except within the Democratic Party, obviously). So what is the greater good?
There has been commentary from Democratic apologists that Sen. Reid's comments do not compare with the comments of some of his Republican predecessors. That is a subjective (and specious) argument. According to those apologists, Republicans are all racist by nature so the intent of racial commentary is obviously racist by design whereas similar comments by Democrats are not intended to be racist because they are more enlightened on the subject of race. Therefore, the arguments do not compare. The problem with such an argument is that they are arguing intent and motive which can never actually be known by anyone other than the offender. Furthermore, if Democrats are so "enlightened", how can they possibly countenance such comments in the first place, let alone utter them aloud?
In a further galling move, Senator Reid apologized on the Sunday morning talk shows and then has followed up by calling every African-American leader that he can find to beg their forgiveness. And while this is obviously a necessity to help deflect attention away from his mistake, it seems that no one is questioning the fact that his mea culpa comes more than a year after the comments were made and only after it was published in an upcoming book. So, would he have apologized for his comments if someone had not outed them in the first place? Not likely. Additionally, the president, in a move clearly intended (and hoped) to defuse the situation, dismissed it with clear political motivations. If the Senate Majority Leader becomes embroiled in a distraction such as racist comments, it can only serve to detract from his goal of passing healthcare legislation - and those distractions must be avoided at all costs. There can be no clearer sign of the political machinations that have now superseded the issue of racism.
And in a country with as many open wounds relating to racism, this clearly is a problem.