Let's peek into the kindergarten classroom known as the U.S. Senate, where mischievous Harry Reid is playing with his colors again.
What if everything that Americans thought we knew about race and politics was upside down? Republicans spend a lot of time and effort trying to prove they're not racist. It's a hard sell, particularly when running against the first African-American president.
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It doesn't help that the GOP has dirty hands. The party benefited from Richard Nixon's "Southern strategy," which had the effect over 30 years of courting white Southern voters by exploiting their fears of African-Americans. More recently, the party has hitched its wagon to a Southwest strategy where some Republicans use anti-Hispanic sentiment and anxiety over immigrants to scare up support from white voters in states such as Texas, Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah.
But what if some of those who exploit racial fears are still in the same place that many of them were just 60 years ago during the civil rights movement -- the Democratic Party? And what if the Democratic brand of racism is better camouflaged because it shows itself not so much as a tendency to mistreat minorities but a desire to manipulate them? What if some Democrats think so little of African-Americans and Latinos that, at election time, they believe all they have to do is push certain buttons to get them to do their bidding?
This sort of thing is hard to detect. Luckily, there is Harry Reid, who plays the race card out in the open.
It happened again last week when the Senate majority leader made a not-so-subtle pitch to minorities by saying that wealthy businessmen are trying to buy the presidential election for Mitt Romney -- except that Reid was more descriptive.
"If this flood of outside money continues," Reid warned on the Senate floor, "the day after the election, 17 angry old white men will wake up and realize they just bought the country."
That's Harry. After a statement like that, you'd hope that -- somewhere in Nevada -- at least one old angry white man would wake up and realize he's just helped divide the country.
Reid has traveled this dirt road before. In 2009, during the health care debate, he accused Republicans of being on the wrong side -- just as they were "when this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery." (Not to ruin a perfectly good slander with inconvenient facts, but it was actually Southern Democrats who were on the wrong side of slavery and firmly advocated segregation for a century after the Civil War.) In 2010, a few years after he had helped scuttle comprehensive immigration reform in the Senate to please organized labor and keep Democrats from being called soft on illegal immigration, Reid tried to shift the blame by accusing Republicans of being hostile to Hispanics because "their skin's a tone darker than ours" and then said he couldn't imagine "how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican."
Having to put up with Democrats who are presumptuous, dishonest and condescending would do the trick.
Sometimes, when Reid goes racial, he insults fellow Democrats. According to the book "Game Change" by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann, Reid said privately during the 2008 election that Barack Obama could win the presidency because he is "light-skinned" and speaks "with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one."
And once in a great while, Reid gets it right. In 2006, after the Republican-controlled Senate took a nativist detour and passed an amendment to an immigration bill that declared English the national language of the United States, Reid astutely called the amendment "racist" and said it was "directed basically to people who speak Spanish."
Still, the Senate majority leader's fixation on race and racism is not good for Reid, Democrats or the country. The liberal media can ignore it, and Democrats can excuse it. But too many times, the senior senator from Nevada has shown an eagerness to advance his own agenda by dividing Americans along racial lines. It's a disgusting habit.
Never mind the 17 white men. When it comes to Reid and his race games, every American should be angry.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is email@example.com.
© 2012, The Washington Post Writers Group