Mona Charen

With due respect to the Republicans who simply could not help themselves in the face of this big fat opportunity to play turnabout, this is not seemly. It's true and glaringly obvious that the Democrats have honed this hair-trigger race sensitivity into a political tool that shoots only right not left. It's so true that no one gave Trent Lott the benefit of the doubt about what was in his heart when he said something boneheaded in praise of the 100-year-old Strom Thurmond. It's true that one word, "macaca," that no one had ever heard of before (and may or may not have had racial connotations), was enough to sink Republican Sen. George Allen. And it's true that countless honorable conservatives have been unjustly smeared as racists because they disapprove of affirmative action or oppose the teachers' unions.

But let's not get into this smarmy business.

Reid used the word "Negro." It's out of date, but is it now offensive? Is it the new "N" word? Just a blink of an eye ago, "black" was the preferred locution. Jesse Jackson decided it should be "African-American" and the country went along. But the slower adopters (even your humble columnist, who prefers less orotund expressions) sometimes still say "black." How long until that becomes a sin?

As for Obama being light-skinned, it's certainly possible that his complexion made him more acceptable to some vestigial racists. For Reid to notice that is not to endorse it. And finally, the president's lack of a "Negro dialect, unless he wants one," was clearly an important asset. Most Americans expect their president to speak standard English. Black (there I go again) speech in America ranges from James Earl Jones to gangsta rap, and it was clearly an advantage that Obama was articulate. When he chooses to adopt a black style, he does it a whole lot more authentically than Hillary Clinton managed in her embarrassing South Carolina appearance at a black (did it again) church. Remember "I ain't noways tired"?

Republicans are right, so right, that if Mitch McConnell had said what Reid said, there would be a prolonged scandal. And they are right that political differences should not be turned radioactive by the malicious charge of racism. But it's enough to point this out.

Don't join in.

Mona Charen

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist, political analyst and author of Do-Gooders: How Liberals Hurt Those They Claim to Help .
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