Republicans are accusing Democrats of having a double standard when it comes to racial issues, pointing out that when then-Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott made comments supporting a segregationist presidential candidate in 2002, he was forced out of his leadership role, yet no Democrats are calling for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's resignation following his "negro dialect" comment.
''There is this standard where the Democrats feel that they can say these things and they can apologize when it comes from the mouths of their own,'' Republican Party Chairman Michael Steele said Sunday. ''But if it comes from anyone else, it's racism.''
But the Rev. Al Sharpton rejects that comparison, saying it's "outrageous" and "insulting" to compare Lott's remarks supporting segregation to Reid's comments, which were made to explain why he thought Barack Obama could win the presidency.
"To say that what [Reid] said is anywhere near comparable ... to what Trent Lott said is insulting to the intelligence of the American people," Sharpton told Fox & Friends host Steve Doocy. "Trent Lott commended a Dixiecrat for running for office who left the Democratic Party to fight integration. How do you compare Trent Lott saying that 'I wish ... we could have those days where blacks are in the back of the bus' ... to saying why a black could be elected president? Now he said it in an insensitive way, but he's electing a black president, compared to this guy saying 'I wish this guy had won that would have kept blacks in segregation.'"
In 2002, Lott resigned as the Republican Senate Majority Leader after commending South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond during the senator's 100th birthday party, saying, "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we 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 the years, either."
Thurmond had run for president in 1948 on the Dixiecrat ticket, opposing desegregation policies and civil rights for black people.
"What Harry Reid said is nowhere near comparable to saying you wish a segregationist had been the president," Sharpton said. "In fact, he was saying the opposite."
Sharpton's is just the latest voice among progressives and Democrats to come to Reid's defense, with Democrats closing ranks around the embattled majority leader. But a few voices on the left have emerged on the left to argue that the "negro dialect" comments may be the straw that broke the camel's back for a politician already facing an uphill climb to re-election this fall.
"Less than ten months out from Election Day, Harry Reid has to confront a hard reality. After he helps pass historic health care legislation, it's time for him to announce his retirement," writes Democratic strategist Dylan Loewe at the Huffington Post.
The negro comment, "for which he immediately apologized, was indefensible and unequivocally inexcusable from a leader of the 21st century Democratic party," Loewe continued. "But the comment isn't the reason that Harry Reid should retire; it just underscores the broader problem. Harry Reid cannot win reelection."
This video is from Fox News' Fox & Friends, broadcast Jan. 11, 2010.