There are three subjects in our political universe that we aren’t allowed to discuss rationally: Israel, Cuba, and race.

For example, try making the case that Palestinians are, no less than Jews, history’s victims. And that they just may have rights, and that Israel’s settlement policy isn’t merely self-defeating but unjust.

This seems to me a reasonable argument. Express it publicly, however, and you’ll be set upon people who fashion themselves as “pro-Israel,” some of them Jews, some evangelical Christians.

(Many conservative evangelicals entertain the bizarre notion that there will come a moment—called “The Rapture”—when the Lord calls all true Christians to His home, leaving the rest of us behind to writhe in misery. This will happen only after all Jews go to Israel, clearing the way for the Second Coming, Armageddon, and the election of Sarah Palin. These cuckoos think Israel’s settlement policy is great.)

Anyway, people who disagree with you on Israel are apt to call you an anti-Semite. You spend the rest of the argument trying to prove that you’re not. The whole exercise is hardly worth the time.

Then there’s Cuba. Suggest that after 50 years it’s time perhaps to bring Cuba out of the cold and re-establish normal relations, and you will be pilloried (largely by the right-wing and hard-line Cuban Americans) as a communist dupe.

Argue that we’ve pursued a policy of isolation against the island for half a century, and all we’ve accomplished is to make an already poor people poorer, and that maybe it’s time we tried another policy. They call you a communist.

So you find yourself calling the other fellow a fascist. Then you yell at each other for a while and the issue of Cuba doesn’t get moved very far down the field.

And finally, there’s race, a subject about which nothing honest or candid can be spoken (particularly by a white person) without risking being branded a racist.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, back in 2008, happened to blurt out the truth about Barack Obama’s chances of winning the presidency. He’s now paying the price. (The public will forgive a politician anything except the truth.)

A new book has just revealed that Reid suggested that Obama had a shot at becoming our first African-American president because he was “light-skinned” and because he didn’t speak with a “Negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.” Which is more or less self-evident.

The Republican right immediately exploded in criticism (surprise, surprise) at the racially charged comments. Some even calling for Reid’s resignation. The senator responded by apologizing for the remark and Obama granted him absolution.

That wasn’t enough for the Wretched Right.

“There’s a big double standard,” said Michael Steele, the Republican national chairman.

Republicans compared the incident that led to then-Majority Leader Trent Lott—a Republican—being forced from his leadership position. He said, at a dinner honoring the ancient Strom Thurmond, that we would have been better off if the South Carolina senator had won the presidency in 1948 when he was the “Dixiecrat” Party candidate.

Let me say this about that: It’s utter (insert vulgar barnyard epithet here).

Reid is a long-time supporter of civil rights, both in his state and the nation. He’s not a racist and has proved it many times over. Moreover, what he said was true.

Lott, on the other hand, not only opposed making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a holiday, he worked against the passage of the Voting Rights Act, one of the most important pieces of civil rights legislation of our time.

In addition, what he said was wrong—we wouldn’t be better off as a nation if we had elected in 1948 a man who not only was a segregationist, but somewhat dim besides.

Do you think the Rapture will take the Republican Party “upstairs,” lock, stock and filibuster? That would make being left behind a lot more attractive.

OtherWords columnist Donald Kaul lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

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