It appears that some anonymous person told Heliemann and/or Halperin that Ted Kennedy told him that Bill Clinton said to Kennedy, of Barack Obama, that “a few years ago, this guy would have been getting us coffee.” In the interests of selling books, some of found it useful to read this as a comment about race—like that forty years ago Obama would be getting coffee for important politicians, not serving in the United States Senate.
That seems, however, like a bizarre reading of the situation. It’s quite literally true that in the relatively recent past—the year 1994, say—both Clinton and Kennedy were extremely important figures in American politics and Obama was a young and well-regarded politically active Chicago attorney, the sort of person who might be eligible for a staff job working for Clinton or Kennedy.
I think it requires a senselessly uncharitable view of not only Clinton’s views on race, but also his basic intelligence, to think that he would have thought the other line of argument would be a smart gambit to break out. I learned about this contretemps from Mark Kleiman’s sensible take.
Kleiman also has a persuasive defense of Harry Reid. To clarify what I said yesterday it’s the very lack of having really done anything wrong that makes Reid’s situation to sticky. It’s just jarring for those of us under a certain age to think of an old white guy walking around saying “negro” and wielding political influence. But Reid can’t really apologize for being the sort of old white guy who would say that because he is, in fact, just such an old white guy. On the merits, the observation that it’s a political asset for Obama that he doesn’t speak in a manner that’s racially coded as black is pretty much banal conventional wisdom.