I think I get it. The "uproar" over Sen. Harry Reid's "racist" statements about President Obama is a calculated episode of Republic rage designed to assert a passionate proxy claim: that Republicans have for years caught media hell for statements about black people, and now they want the same standard applied to Democrats.
So let's set aside Reid's remarks and deal with the GOP grievance for which this controversy is a stand-in. Does the mainstream media apply a double standard on race when it comes to Republicans and Democrats?
Answer: I think so.
But here's the difficult part for Republicans. It's not a context-free double standard, and it's probably not going to go away until party leaders establish a sustained public track record of confronting the racist-wacko wing of the GOP. There are clearly party officials who find this corner of the conservative base frightening and offensive, but political calculus has long required that they trend lightly on their neo-Bircher constituents.
Neither can media attitudes (not to mention public skepticism) about Republican racial credibility be laid entirely at the feet of a few closet Klansmen. Nixon's "Southern Strategy" was a successful racist gambit. Lee Atwater felt so bad about his role in perpetuating that era that his conscience compelled him to a deathbed confession of his political sins. George H.W. Bush gave us Willie Horton, and his son won the Republican nomination in 2000 with the help of push polls in South Carolina that insinuated that John McCain had fathered an illegitimate black child. Earlier this year a majority of Republicans believed that ACORN had stolen the election for Obama. And so on.
Is it fair to tar all Republicans with this brush? No. Think back to the conservatives who confronted the extremists at various campaign rallies in 2008, or even to McCain trying to correct statements made by audience members at town hall gatherings. I'm no fan of Michael Steele, but I certainly don't think he's a black-on-black racist.
So if you Republicans want an apology for Trent Lott, here's mine. Lott shouldn't have had to resign his Senate leadership post for those comments he made to Strom Thurmond. Dumb? Yes. Firing offense? No. I suspect Lott was just trying to say something nice on the man's100th birthday and probably wasn't thinking too clearly about the fact that he had just publicly endorsed an explicitly racist campaign platform from 1948. Mistakes were made.
But here's the part I wish more Republicans would get. Lott was sacrificed for your party's collective sins since the middle of the 20th century, and the sins of the father will continue to be visited on his children until you confront the cynical political calculus that keeps nine out of 10 black voters in the Democratic camp.
The deep irony here is that in setting the racism bar so low for Reid, Steele and the Republicans are laying a trap for the next ill-equipped white guy from their party who says something quasi-stupid. As a liberal I can't say I'm upset about that, but my agenda here is pretty simple. In the same way that only Nixon could go to China, only the Republican Party can push the die-hard remnants of white racism out of the mainstream once and for all.
Consider it a practical quest. I sure wouldn't want to be known as the "white party" in a country with our current demographic trends.Not a good long-term branding solution.
*(For the record -- and so as not to hide behind the view-from-nowhere -- I don't consider what I read of Reid's remarks to be racist, or anything less than candid truth. But racism is, like obscenity, in the eye of the beholder... which is part of what makes it such a tiresome subject.)