As if Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn't have enough on his plate—trying to find sufficient cash to buy the 60 votes necessary for his health-care reform package—he's now found himself at the center of a race controversy.
In their new book, "Game Change," journalists Mark Halperin and John Heilemann expose remarks Mr. Reid made in an interview about Barack Obama during the presidential campaign. Mr. Reid is quoted as saying that he believed the nation was ready to elect a "light-skinned" black man "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
Confronted with this quote, Mr. Reid apologized on Saturday: "I deeply regret using such a poor choice of words. I sincerely apologize for offending any and all Americans, especially African-Americans, for my improper comments."
What followed this public apology was all too predictable. Mr. Reid personally called President Obama and a handful of presumed leaders of the so-called African-American community—Julian Bond, Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson among them—to beg forgiveness for his racial sin.
To no one's surprise, all of those to whom apologies were extended responded by accepting Mr. Reid's apology and saying that the nation had more important issues to deal with, such as health care and national security.
As I have observed coverage of this incident by the media and captains of the African-American community, I cannot help but be reminded of former Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, who made remarks praising Strom Thurmond in 2002. Mr. Lott said of the segregationist: "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we [Mississippians] 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."
When Mr. Lott's controversy erupted, he apologized repeatedly and sincerely to one and all—even groveling on Black Entertainment Network—all to no avail. Black leaders were unforgiving and persisted in demanding that he either resign from his position or be removed. In the end, they got what they wanted.
When Rush Limbaugh wanted to buy into the St. Louis Rams last year, many of the same individuals who instantly accepted Mr. Reid's apology expressed outrage over allegedly racist statements made by Mr. Limbaugh, despite the fact that zero evidence of these statements existed. They demanded that his participation in the bid be rejected. Ultimately, they got what they wanted.
It's certainly true that racial incidents are not all created equal. What one individual finds offensive may not be to another. Thus, the words of Mr. Lott may have been more insensitive to some than the comments of Mr. Reid. Nonetheless, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the spirit of forgiveness is universal—except when it comes to conservatives.
For my part, I am having a difficult time determining what it was that Mr. Reid said that was so offensive.
Was it because he suggested that lighter-skinned blacks fare better in American life than their darker brothers and sisters? If so, ask blacks whether they find this to be true. Even the lighter-skinned ones, if they are honest with themselves, will agree that there is a different level of acceptance.
Was it because he used the politically incorrect term "negro"? If so, it should be noted that there are many blacks of my generation who continue to embrace this term. In fact, "negro" is an option along with "black" and "African-American" on the 2010 Census.
Was it because he implied that Mr. Obama might be cut some political slack because of his oratorical skills or his looks? If so, that fact was not harmful to Joe Biden, who was elected vice president after praising Mr. Obama as "articulate" and "clean-looking."
Or, finally, could it be viewed as offensive that Mr. Reid suggested that blacks often have a distinctive way of speaking? If that is, indeed, the offense, then I will offend a lot of individuals when I assert that I can tell in probably 90% of the cases whether an individual is black merely by talking to him on the telephone.
In short, this incident does not rise to the level that it prompts me to join the parade of those who urge Mr. Reid to resign because of it. There are far more substantive matters over which the Senate majority leader's performance should be judged—and I find his performance seriously flawed on any number of them.
Still, to quote President Obama, from another race incident, "this is a teachable moment." This one doesn't warrant a beer summit, but it does require serious reflection for the good of our nation.
We are too quick to take offense about race when none was intended. Some are too anxious to manufacture outrage over matters that do not justify the attention that we give them. And we are too quick to politicize race.
As far as I'm concerned, Messrs. Bond, Sharpton, Jackson and a host of other Americans formerly identified as "negroes" have forever forfeited the right to be outraged whenever a Republican or a talk show host makes an inappropriate or "insensitive" racial comment.
Mr. Connerly is chairman of the American Civil Rights Coalition and author of "Creating Equal" (Encounter, 2000).
I've got to say, we're so PC in this country it's nuckin futs. Does anyone disagree with what he says? I don't agree with the Senator's politics, but come on folks, let's be honest. Reminds me when Jimmy the Greek, a sports announcer with CBS was fired for comments he made about blacks. And they were all accurate. Or the other CBS golf announcer who made comments about lesbians. Don't tell the truth, just make sure you're PC. Orwellian. That's why we can't be honest about the Muslims who want to kill us. Because we're trying to be so PC.