Reid, Race and Private Speech - by Dennis Prager
The danger of attributing significance to what Reid said in private.
I think that Harry Reid is a left-wing ideologue who is doing serious harm to a great country.
I think that Harry Reid would charge any Republican colleague with racism and ask for that person’s resignation if he or she said what Reid is reported to have said about Barack Obama’s color and accent.
I think that every liberal Democrat deserves to be hoisted on his own petard and stung by the race card that liberals invented and have used for decades against Republican conservatives. Given what Democrats and their allies in the media did to Sens. Trent Lott and George Allen – taking innocuous comments and declaring them racist – Republicans have every right to demand that Mr. Reid resign as Senate majority leader.
But to the extent that truth still matters in America , what Reid is reputed to have said is not racist, let alone renders him a racist. It seems to be nothing more than a private opinion about what type of black American had the best chance to be elected president.
But all this is not the issue. Here are the issues that matter:
The belief that the public has a right to know what people say privately.
The belief that one knows the “true nature” of people if one knows what they said in private.
The utter inability of Americans to speak with any honesty about anything to do with race.
Let’s deal with each.
The unearthing of the private lives and thoughts of public figures has become so normal as to be expected. What the media have done, however, is to render private conversations of anyone in public life almost as guarded as those of citizens in Communist countries. The news media have become a nonviolent form of the East German Stasi or the Soviet KGB. Just as citizens in those former totalitarian states needed to guard their speech in private, lest secret police informers snitch on them and ruin their lives, so, too, American public figures – from politics to entertainment – now need to guard their most private moments, lest a member of the media snitch on them and ruin their lives.
As Rhett Butler finally said to Scarlett O’Hara, I say to the media about the private speech of public figures, “Frankly, I don’t give a damn.”
Which brings us to the second point – the belief among many Americans that one knows “the real person” (public or private) if one knows what the person says in private, and therefore, we should know as much as possible about the private conversations of public figures.
This is as dangerous as it is nonsensical.
There is no truth to this belief.
We all say all sorts of things in private that reveal nothing about our true selves. The very nature of private speech is that it enables us to be free to say anything. It is what we do that tells the world who we are. And as regards the speech of public figures, it is what public figures say of significance in public that matters.
It is, to my mind, another of the many examples of the lack of wisdom in the liberal world that liberals think that private speech reveals who people are, and that we therefore have a right, even a duty, to know as much about it as possible. Thus, liberals repeatedly speak of Richard Nixon’s private anti-Jewish remarks to make their case that the former president was an anti-Semite. Of course, this “anti-Semite” appointed the first Jewish secretary of state and saved Israel ’s life during the Yom Kippur War. But to the foolish who believe that private speech is the real thing, little of that matters in assessing Nixon’s character insofar as it related to Jews.
To sharpen this point, contrast Nixon with another recent president, Jimmy Carter. I would be willing to wager that Mr. Carter has never said anything in private as derogatory about Jews as Nixon did. But to the vast majority of Jews and non-Jews who understand that the security of the Jewish state is the most pressing Jewish issue, Mr. Carter has been the Jews’ problem, not Mr. Nixon. Likewise, Harry Truman sometimes used the term “kike” in private conversation, but it was he who went against the advice of his entire State Department and recognized Israel ’s existence as soon as Israel was declared a state.
Finally, we again come to the falsehood that Democrats and liberals regularly offer when they ask Americans to have honest dialogue on the race issue. Thanks to liberals, one can sooner swear in public or declare the world is flat than say the most innocuously valid things about racial matters. One cannot even oppose race-based affirmative action without liberals labeling the person “racist.”
Because I prize private speech and truth more than I prize humiliating Harry Reid – who, again, would not be nearly so decent to any Republican – I find the revelation of his private speech and especially the attention paid to it as if it signifies anything important about him to reflect only one more example of a downward moral spiral in my beloved country.