The day Harry Reid announced his retirement, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch told a radio reporter, “Reid is one of my friends, but he’s been a pathetic majority leader as far as I’m concerned. He thought he was doing right by protecting his side, but I think the American people resented him because he got nothing done.”
Setting aside the fact that the Affordable Care Act, recession stimulus, the Dodd-Frank Act, Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008, Mortgage Cancellation Relief Act of 2007, Housing and Economic Recovery Act of 2008, a new GI Bill of Rights, the Omnibus Public Lands Act of 2009 (which transferred thousands of acres to Nevada), and dozens of other major pieces of legislation got through Congress on Reid’s watch, the fact that Hatch made such a comment on such an occasion says a lot about how politics have changed during the tenures of Reid and Hatch.
When Ted Kennedy died, dozens of commentators pointed to the Kennedy/Hatch partnership as an example of the way political bipartisanship used to work. Hatch was a decent person, those commentaries suggested, who had transcended the mean-spiritedness of the time. Yet Hatch chose a day when Reid announced a painful decision to end his public career to bash him with words he had never spoken about Reid before.
Thirty-three minutes after Reid’s retirement announcement, the National Republican Senate Committee issued a statement that read in part, “On the verge of losing his own election and after losing the majority, Senator Harry Reid has decided to hang up his rusty spurs. Not only does Reid instantly become irrelevant and a lame duck, his retirement signals that there is no hope for the Democrats to regain control of the Senate.”
The function of the NRSC is to elect Republicans to the Senate, and Reid had just taken himself out of his re-election race, but the committee couldn’t resist piling on again, anyway.
Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer: “Now, I know you’re not supposed to dance on the grave of the newly dead but this is only a political death, so those rules don’t apply, and I will be unrestrained. I’m not against the fact that he was a partisan with sharp elbows and all that, but I do think he was a disgrace to his own institution because he emasculated it in the name of protecting the president and trying to re-elect Democrats.”
The London Economist: “Mr Reid is an outrageous partisan. In a political career spanning almost half a century, including two terms in the House of Representatives and five terms in the Senate, he has been willing to spread dirt, twist arms, stab backs and stage procedural ambushes to advance the interests of his Nevada constituents, the fortunes of the Democratic Party and his career.”
A few days earlier, the inspector general of the Homeland Security Department had named Reid and a few others who helped ease the way on visa requirements for businesspeople who were considering investing in their home states, the kind of thing congressmen have been doing since the Articles of Confederation. Reid was accused of no wrongdoing, but conservatives took advantage of his retirement to step up their coverage of the report, as when Breitbart News called for a criminal investigation.
Reid did himself no favors when he responded to a question in a CNN interview about his outrageous conduct in the 2012 campaign in claiming that Mitt Romney had failed to pay his taxes. “They can call it whatever they want,” Reid said, again asserting for schoolchildren across the nation that the end justifies the means: “Romney didn’t win, did he?” Conservatives responded by claiming that liberals had excused Reid’s conduct, as when American Thinker posted a story, “Liberal absolution for liberal transgressions.” That, too, was false — many liberals condemned Reid’s behavior, although not enough (see http://tinyurl.com/plg85cn).
Occasions like retirement announcements are opportunities to break through the harshness and arrogance of congressional culture. It’s unfortunate that our leaders missed their cue on this one.
Dennis Myers is a veteran Nevada journalist.