They come and they go and, now, Harry Reid has said he is going. When he announced his decision to retire, the predictable chorus of “attaboys” followed. He was a “fighter,” many of his colleagues said. President Obama went the extra mile and spoke fondly of Reid’s “curmudgeonly charm that’s hard to replace.”
Maybe you had to be there. In Washington, that is.
To people out Beyond the Beltway, who knew only what they saw on television, Reid was a mean spirited, inarticulate, partisan gut fighter. And they held the institution of which he was a “leader” in record low esteem. Not least because he was the face of it.
Reid is known best for his enemies and the way he chose to attack them. He didn’t like Mitt Romney and it plainly went way beyond politics. So Reid attacked Romney at what he considered his point of greatest vulnerability. Romney was rich. It was immaterial that he had been successful in business. Romney was a rich Republican, a breed to be first resented and, then, destroyed.
So Reid accused Romney of failing to pay taxes for ten years.
When asked for proof, he said, “I don't think the burden should be on me. The burden should be on him. He's the one I've alleged has not paid any taxes.”
The Washington Post investigated and dismissed the charges but Reid, of course, moved on.
His next target would be the Koch Brothers whom he described as being “un-American.” How could they not be? They were rich and they contributed to causes and candidates that Reid didn’t like. Reid launched into rhetorical attacks on the Koch brothers as obsessively as Ahab denouncing the white whale but without the artful language. Reid wasn’t much with words and, as the Post reported, was once obliged to apologize “ for referring to President Barack Obama as ‘light skinned’ and ‘with no Negro dialect’ in private conversations during the 2008 presidential campaign.”
Reid could be forgiven, perhaps, since he wasn’t very good with compliments. Didn’t have much practice as he much preferred the other thing. So he laid into the Koch brothers, over and over. One suspects he’ll keep it up until he leaves the Senate and maybe beyond, muttering angrily about them and their money as he leaves Washington (assuming he does) and heads back to Nevada.
Interestingly, the Koch brothers consider themselves libertarians. So it may be that Harry Reid has done their cause more good than he has done them harm. At the very least, the Koch’s philanthropic enterprises will continue without the distracting and embarrassing attacks. So the Kochs will be providing financial support for the arts when Harry Reid is no longer able, even, to throw a little federal money the way of “Cowboy Poetry festivals,” which he once mourned as casualties of a mean spirited Republican agenda. After the Senate, in fact, it is hard to imagine that Reid will be in much of a position to help people out in the ways to which he has become accustomed. The early reports on his departure from the Senate are generally agreed that he has no future on K-Street, being temperamentally unsuited for work as a lobbyist.
So the Kochs will have influence long after Reid is just a memory. If that. He has left behind no great legislative legacy. Certainly no memorable speeches. His chief talent in that respect was for name calling.
Meanwhile, the citizenry is increasingly fed up with interest group politics, crony capitalism, Washington, and the political class, making these good times for libertarianism, broadly defined as being the antithesis of politics over everything. People would rather not have Harry Reid in charge of quite so much of their lives.
Reid, then, has not only pushed his own political party into minority status in the Senate, he has also advanced the anti-government agenda of his sworn political enemies who argue that Washington has far too much power and is inclined to use it in ways that advance the interests of the political class and are at best inefficient and at worst (and more likely) corrupt. During the years when Reid has been a leader in Washington, they have not had to look very hard for evidence to support this thesis.
Reid was a boxer in his youth and used the old ring language and metaphors in his life’s work hustling votes, passing out favors, and slandering anyone he considered an enemy. He may be a “fighter” and tough in the political clinches and all the rest, but it looks like his career is ending with Reid on the mat being counted out.