More than a few people think that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has been walking around his hometown of Searchlight, Nev., without a hat for so long that the desert sun has broiled his brain. Like many longtime denizens of Capitol Hill Reid has his quirks, including an inexplicable fascination with President Barack Obama's race.
As the record shows, he brings it up far more than necessary. The first documented case was some unflattering remarks he made privately during the 2008 presidential campaign, later revealed in a book on the election. The latest came in an interview Reid gave to a Nevada affiliate of National Public Radio in which he stated his sincere hope that Republican opposition to the president is "based on substance and not the fact that he's an African-American."
Republicans responded with predictable outrage at the very suggestion that their opposition to Obama is race-based. South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, the Associated Press reported, issued a statement in which he said he hoped "Sen. Reid will realize the offensive nature of his remarks and apologize to those who disagree with the president's policies."
Scott, who is black, is right. Opposition to Obama is based on the fact that his policy prescriptions for what ails America are just so much patent medicine being peddled by the modern day equivalent of a traveling circus.
Yet if Reid is crazy he's crazy like a fox and the Republicans are foolish to take the bait. The Senate's lead Democrat knows that Obama's policies are not working, that the new health care law is a mess, that the economy is still in the tank, and that his party is in serious political trouble. He also knows that he and his allies cannot run on their record and cannot win on substance so they have to redirect the argument into one that is winnable. And that's where race comes in.
Calling someone a racist is about as bad a thing as one can say about someone these days. It's like mentioning Hitler: It's a conversation stopper. Reid is trying to maneuver the GOP into an argument over whether or not they are racist – an argument no one can win because it's nearly impossible to prove a negative.
It's a fight the Democrats have been spoiling for since 2008. They seem to think that, strategically, it's a silver bullet that will knock the GOP back on its heels for years to come, at least through the end of Obama's presidency.
When the Republicans say there aren't enough jobs being created because the president's economic policies are inhibiting growth, Reid and his friends suggest obliquely that the basis for this conclusion is racial bias. When the party of Lincoln argues that Obama is not up to the job where national security is concerned, the opposition to his agenda is, again, driven by racial bias. The tea party is motivated by racial bias. Opposition to Obamacare is a product of racial bias. Everything anti-Obama is the result of racial bias, which has joined tax hikes and cuts in defense spending as the Democrat's ubiquitous answer to every question.
If the Republicans are smart they will resist giving any substantive response to these charges when they are raised because answering them condones them. To paraphrase Mark Twain, the allegation of racism is the new last refuge of scoundrels and other politicians. Reid and company can't win on substance so they are resorting to slime.