Pundits are divided: is Harry Reid a racist or just a buffoon? I tend to agree with Mark Steyn and Matt Yglesias (hard to believe there would ever be an occasion to write those words):

It’s good that Reid apologized, but at the same time you can’t really apologize for being the sort of person who’d be inclined to use the phrase “negro dialect” and it’s more the idea of Reid being that kind of person that’s creepy here than anything else.

Ruth Marcus put it this way:

For anyone in public life to use the word “Negro” in 2008 is beyond stupid. What was once polite has become demeaning. (Although, interestingly enough, the U.S. Census chose to retain the word on the 2010 census form because so many respondents wrote it in 10 years ago.) The lame explanation offered by an aide — that the remarks were not intended for use in the book — is about as convincing as Jesse Jackson’s assertion that he did not consider his “Hymietown” comments to the Washington Post’s Milton Coleman on the record. (“Let’s talk black talk,” Jackson had said to Coleman.)

Nor is this the only time Harry Reid showed an odd obsession with the manner in which prominent African Americans express themselves. It was Reid who declared of Justice Clarence Thomas: “I think that he has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written.” (He nevertheless had kind words for Justice Scalia, the other sharp-penned conservative on the court.) And then there was his remark that Republicans who opposed ObamaCare were comparable to those who opposed the repeal of slavery. It is hard to think of another figure in public life who is so tone-deaf on matters of race.

There is something, well, just not right about Reid’s propensity to toss around incendiary racial analogies and observations. Goodness knows what’s in his heart, but this simply isn’t what we expect of public leaders, who, if they can’t think of something helpful or enlightening to say on race relations, should at the very least keep quiet. Honestly, is he the best that the Democrats can do for a majority leader, or the best the people of Nevada can do for a senator? I suppose we’ll find out in November. But the Democrats’ insistence that there’s nothing wrong with Reid aside from a slip of the tongue (well, lots and lots of them) or nothing wrong enough to be disqualifying rings hollow. You’d think they’d at least prefer someone who doesn’t absorb days of media attention in apology mode.

You might expect the Democratic establishment to quietly encourage him to follow Chris Dodd’s example. In circling the wagons around their wounded and increasingly embarrassing leader, the Democrats in D.C. are passing the buck to Nevada voters, who, I suspect, will be more anxious than ever to elect someone more in line with their views and less offensive in his public rhetoric.

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