The largest impact of Mark Halperin/John Heilemann's catch-all slambook on the 2008 election has obviously been on Harry Reid, who appears in these chronicles describing President Barack Obama as "light-skinned" and possessing "no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
These are archaic, tone-deaf terms, to be sure, which are certain to bristle the reader. But the larger discussion in the media has been whether or not this can fairly be called the equivalent of, say, praising a dedicated segregationist for having segregationist beliefs.
Whether or not Reid is a secret racist with malicious feelings toward Obama is being treated as if it were a difficult-to-penetrate mystery by the media. The comments that have everyone a-flutter come early in the book. But what comes even earlier is a lengthy narrative that depicts Reid as the chief encourager of Obama's run for the presidency. Few seem to have even noticed this; fewer still cite it directly. So, in the interest of vainly doing some reality-based assignment editing for the mainstream media, I thought I'd enter that account into the public record.
From "Game Change", pages 33-34:
Obama may have been a buckraking messiah, but he was all too aware that he was still just a freshman and therefore at the beck and call of his party's leadership. So when he was summoned one day in July to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office without the slightest explanation why, he promptly hoofed it over there, remarking to Gibbs on his way out the door, "I wonder what we screwed up."
Obama's relationship with the leader was cordial enough, but it was hardly warm or close. Now he found himself sitting in the chair across from Reid in his quarters in the Capitol. From the wall above Reid's desk, the impassive visage of Samuel Clemens, rendered in a giant oil painting, mutely observed the proceedings.
At sixty-six, Reid was a little more that twenty years older than Obama, but in terms of style and demeanor, the generation gap between them seemed much wider. Awkward and halting, vaguely archaic, Reid didn't like wasting words or time. On his mind today was Obama's future in the Senate -- and he got right to the point.
"You're not going to go anyplace here," Reid declared soon after Obama took his seat. "I know that you don't like it, doing what you're doing."
In observing Obama for the past year and a half, Reid has sensed his frustration and impatience, had heard rumblings that Obama was already angling to head back home and take a shot at the Illinois governorship. Reid had no idea if it was true, but he knew this much: Obama simply wasn't cut out to be a Senate lifer.
As obama listened to the senior senator from Nevada, he wasn't sure where the old man was going. But then Reid's disquisition took an unexpected turn, surprising Obama in both its bluntness and its adamancy.
Twenty minutes later, the meeting was over, and Obama headed back to his warren in the Hart building. He breezed through the lobby, down the hall, and into Gibbs's office, closing the door behind him.
"So," asked Gibbs from behind his desk, "what did we fuck up?"
"Nothing," Obama replied. "Harry wants me to run for president."
"That whole meeting was about you running for president?"
"Yeah," Obama said, then grinned, "He really wants me to run for president."
I think that if we could truly define racism as "the way in which awkward, halting and vaguely archaic white people have a hard time talking about the black people they admire and encourage to be president of the United States," you'd be really hard-pressed to call that a malicious social problem.
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