EDITORIAL: Rebel-rouser Reid no racial healer

Harry Reid had quite the threefer last week. He managed to politicize a national tragedy, allege racism where it doesn’t exist and punch Nevada’s largest university in the mouth, all at the same time.

By now, Nevadans are familiar with the Senate minority leader’s refusal to treat his foot-in-mouth disease. Nothing is beneath the Democrat if he believes points can be scored, dollars can be raised and advantages gained.

But in the aftermath of the horrific massacre of black worshipers at a Charleston, S.C., church by a white supremacist, Sen. Reid went beyond a predictable call for gun control measures that wouldn’t have prevented the shooting. Instead of simply rallying behind the effort to remove the Confederate flag from the grounds of the South Carolina Capitol, he dragged the University of Nevada, Las Vegas into the national debate over Confederate symbols by urging regents to consider abandoning “Rebels” as the school’s nickname.

The suggestion that Rebels gear and the school’s mascot, Hey Reb, might inspire hatred and mass murder is absurd. Sen. Reid is about 40 years late to that discussion.

Yes, the Civil War inspired the Rebels nickname when UNLV was founded in 1957. The university adopted Confederate symbols, not out of allegiance to racism and slavery, but to acknowledge the state’s fierce North-South rivalry and Nevada Southern University’s breakaway from the University of Nevada, Reno. The school’s mascot, Beauregard, was named for a Confederate general. In the 1970s, the school wisely ditched Beauregard, and by the 1990s, Confederate symbols were gone. Hey Reb was inspired by Revolutionary War minutemen.

If the Rebels name or Hey Reb were remotely offensive, students and faculty would have seen to a change years ago. UNLV has no trouble attracting African-American students and other racial and ethnic minorities. In fact, U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UNLV among the top 10 schools in the country for undergraduate diversity — a majority of students are nonwhite.

Sen. Reid has pounced on tragedy previously in the name of political opportunism. In 2013, when seven Marines were killed during a training exercise in Hawthorne, he rushed to the Senate floor to suggest the budget sequester was to blame. It was an outlandish assertion.

And few people are less qualified to be arbiters of racial sensitivity than Sen. Reid. Recall that during the 2008 campaign, he said Barack Obama could win the presidency because he is “light-skinned” and speaks “with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one,” according to the book “Game Change.” He once said he couldn’t understand “how anyone of Hispanic heritage could be a Republican.” He ripped “17 angry white men” as financiers of outside campaign expenditures. And last year, he criticized the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision by promising that “women’s lives are not determined by virtue of five white men.” Justice Clarence Thomas, who voted with the majority in that case, is black.

If Sen. Reid wants to promote racial healing in this country, we can think of a much better approach than changing UNLV’s nickname. Sen. Reid could try keeping his mouth shut.

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