The Sudden Impact of Dirty Harry
From the Scrapbook
Aug 20, 2012, Vol. 17, No. 45 • By THE SCRAPBOOK
The Scrapbook, as any reader can attest, stands foursquare behind civility. We like to think that we practice civility, and we value it in others. And while it’s a myth that the nation’s capital was a hotbed of civility until those terrible [Republicans/conservatives/Reaganites/right-wingers/Tea Partiers/etc.] came along, The Scrapbook certainly endorses civility in principle.
Which goes part of the way toward explaining our dilemma about Harry Reid. On the one hand, The Scrapbook would like to treat the 72-year-old Senate majority leader with the deference due his august position, and there is plentiful cause for complaint about him without descending to incivility. But Senator Reid makes it awfully difficult.
Last week, he took to the floor of the Senate—conveniently so, thereby insulating himself from charges of slander—to claim that Mitt Romney hasn’t paid taxes for the past decade. This is, of course, a serious accusation, suggesting either a calculated dereliction of a citizen’s duty or, at worst, a federal crime. But Senator Reid’s only authority for this statement was decidedly suspicious: an unidentified “investor” in Bain Capital, Romney’s old private equity firm, who wanted only to inform Harry Reid.
Did the anonymous investor offer Reid any proof? No comment. Did the anonymous investor explain how he would know anything about Mitt Romney’s tax filings? No comment. “Do I know that’s true?” declared Reid, back on the Senate floor. “Well, I’m not certain.” But the burden of proof is on Mitt Romney, not Harry Reid: “Let him prove he has paid taxes because he has not.”
Of course, in the good old days before the collapse of civility, there would have been an easy, convenient term for Reid’s behavior: -McCarthyism. On the floor of the Senate a reckless member has made an extraordinary accusation, without proof or attribution, against a distinguished citizen who is now required to prove that he is not a tax cheat.
So clumsy and transparent is Reid’s gesture that The Scrapbook would be tempted to dismiss it as yet another “Chicago-style” tactic, all too characteristic of the Obama White House. And indeed, that is largely the way the press has played it: That old ex-boxer Harry Reid may look like a 98-pound weakling, the story goes, but he packs a wicked left hook—and it’s left poor Mitt Romney reeling and sputtering. Maybe a little unfair, but hey! politics ain’t beanbag.
Then again, there is another way of looking at it. In recent years the mild-mannered Harry Reid has -acquired something of a reputation for indecorous language. Most -politicians apply some modest -sugarcoating to their pronouncements, but Reid is a conspicuous exception. When American troops were fighting and dying in Iraq, he pronounced the war “lost.” He has publicly complained about the smell of tourists visiting the Capitol building. He denounced President George W. Bush as a “loser” and a “liar,” and declared Justice Clarence Thomas to be “an embarrassment.” Ex-Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, said Senator Reid, is “a hack.”
Well, The Scrapbook has a long memory, and recalls that Senator Reid suffered what was described as a mild stroke, a “transient -ischemic attack,” in 2005. Which now prompts us to speculate: How mild? If Reid’s cerebral episode caused any permanent damage—and Reid, we regret to say, has never released his records—it might well manifest -itself in reduced inhibitions, a looser tongue, a troubling inability to calibrate his language.
Now, The Scrapbook doesn’t know for certain if this is true, and is only relaying the theory as a public service, at the prompting of an anonymous but civic-spirited neurologist. “Let him prove that he isn’t losing his mind,” says Dr. X, “because he is.”
Last week Americans for Tax Reform caused a big stir when they dug through the tax code and discovered that Americans who win medals at the Olympics get a big bill from the IRS.