I Thought I Knew Harry Reid. I Was Wrong.

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The attentive reader will deduce that I have since reversed this extreme judgment. Reid was certainly a flawed man as all politicians should be, however after watching him function for a decade, I can’t assist however admire him. In my lifetime, I don’t suppose that the Democratic Occasion has had a simpler chief — morally or strategically — than Harry Reid. From that first cellphone name in 2008 by way of to his retirement, I realized that Reid was the savviest political fighter of his technology — a person who didn’t telegraph his punches, who rigorously coordinated his troops to make sure that after they fought, it was on favorable floor, and who battled like hell for ethical victory when a dropping combat couldn’t be averted.

Reid’s legislative accomplishments — mainly the Inexpensive Care Act and the 2010 Dodd-Frank monetary reform regulation — don’t adequately summarize his affect. Reid was extra vital to working folks for the unhealthy issues he blocked than for the great issues he enacted. Social Safety exists because it does as we speak as a result of Reid’s first order of enterprise as Democratic chief within the Senate in 2005 was to dam the Bush plan to denationalise the New Deal program.

“He did the Michael Corleone — my supply is nothing,” recollects Ari Rabin-Havt, a former Reid staffer who suggested Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) after Reid’s retirement. At a time when there was no progressive blogosphere, no HuffPost and no lefty Twitter bloc, Reid refused to barter with Bush on Social Safety, and held a caucus filled with conservative Democrats — Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) amongst others — unified in opposition to the Bush plan. They gained, and Bush’s presidency started its nice unraveling.


Within the profusion of well-intentioned remembrances from Democratic lawmakers since his loss of life, Reid’s willingness to rebuke them when their ethical compasses had been mislaid is being conveniently un-recalled. Reid’s legacy consists of his early and unwavering alliance with Barack Obama, however it additionally included a number of grunt work to maintain Obama from sabotaging his personal presidency.

Till the monetary disaster pressured a rearrangement of priorities, Obama’s prime purpose when coming into workplace was to enact a “Grand Cut price” with Republicans on the federal finances deficit. The overall scheme was simple: Democrats would agree to chop Social Safety and Medicare whereas Republicans would agree to lift taxes on the rich. He would tackle his personal get together’s “sacred cows” if Republicans would agree it was time to “eat our peas.”

All of it sounded very noble till you decoded that Obama believed that the poor and the aged bore as a lot duty for decreasing the debt because the be-yachted and tax-havened. The individuals who had struggled essentially the most within the American economic system could be pressured to sacrifice together with those that had benefited essentially the most.

But when Reid wasn’t going to chop Social Safety for George W. Bush, he wasn’t going to do it for Barack Obama. He battled the president’s twisted fiscal priorities for years. For those who needed to cut back the deficit, Reid reasoned, tax the wealthy. However deliberately decreasing the incomes of working folks could be an ethical crime and political malpractice, significantly throughout an extended and grinding recession.

Reid’s work in opposition to Obama was typically laborious to see by design, and at instances Republicans intervened to avoid wasting him the difficulty of taking a dramatic public stand. However in 2013 Reid made his longstanding position known to the general public: “There may be not going to be a Grand Cut price.” There by no means was, and its absence has by no means been an issue. The nationwide debt has roughly tripled since Obama entered workplace, with none apparent penalties for anybody.

We will be taught as a lot about Reid from his defeats as we will from his victories. On the shut of 2012, when the Bush tax cuts had been eventually scheduled to run out, Reid was thrilled. As soon as tax charges rose for everybody, Republicans could be desperate to strike a deal reducing them the place they may. However Obama — sustained insistence on deficit discount however — needed a deal greater than he needed a quantity. And so he dispatched then-Vice President Joe Biden to the workplace of Senate Minority Chief Mitch McConnell — a maneuver clearly designed to go across the prime Senate Democrat. Biden agreed to a set of concessions which not solely preserved the Bush tax cuts for folks making as much as $400,000 a yr, however arrange one other spherical of finances cuts solely two months away. Disgusted, Reid threw the administration’s record of concessions into his workplace hearth, and let each publication in Washington know that he had carried out it.

Reid acknowledged that politics largely demanded doing one of the best you may with a foul hand. Compromise was not a unclean phrase if it meant forestalling a scenario worse than what the deal might create. A lot of the work concerned being ready for the moments when fortune favored you. At such instances, you took the win, and also you took every thing you may. There was a distinction, to Reid, between working for Beltway comity and dealing for the pursuits of working folks.

Most politicians use the artwork of compromise as an excuse to interact in corruption for its personal sake — don’t let the proper be the enemy of the great whereas I shovel this load of cash to a giant financial institution. And there’s no use pretending Reid was resistant to the calls for of massive cash. He shamelessly battled on behalf of the Las Vegas casinos, going as far as to defend the integrity of ultra-right-winger Sheldon Adelson from prices that his political affect was as corrosive as that of the Koch brothers.

However he was nonetheless strategic. Throughout the monetary disaster, he waged conflict with large banks to forestall them from foreclosing on MGM and other Las Vegas properties that sustained 1000’s of jobs in his residence state. Certain, he was searching for native pursuits, however this sort of rescue activism is strictly what Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell has been praised for in his administration of the 2020 coronavirus crash.

It’s not an accident that an unlimited crop of individuals in Washington who will not be solely progressives however extraordinarily efficient folks earned their stripes in Reid’s workplace — Adam Jentleson, Ari Rabin-Havt, Kristen Orthman, Josh Orton and Faiz Shakir amongst others have all gone on to do vital work for the places of work of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and numerous progressive organizations. Reid himself elevated the profiles of each Sanders and Warren throughout his tenure, giving them rein to advocate for the pursuits of working folks when different Senate leaders might need urged quietude within the title of message self-discipline and company fundraising.

Reid was at all times an insider, by no means an activist. He incessantly differed with Sanders and Warren on strategic particulars. However he was the uncommon insider who believed it was vital to raise the voices of outsiders who may shift the caucus in a productive route. Reid won’t ever win a purity contest with Sanders, however don’t maintain your breath ready for the Vermont socialist to denounce Reid as a company sellout.

Reid had a robust, intuitive sense of sophistication politics that distinguished him from different Democratic leaders. The political machine he assembled in Nevada was constructed from union sweat for the good thing about working Latino households — individuals who didn’t appear like Reid, however whose tales he simply recognized with as a person born right into a childhood of wrestle. Loads of Democrats pay lip service to working folks; Reid understood them. Within the decade I spent watching his profession up shut, he by no means overpassed who precisely all his insider maneuvering was supposed to assist.


It’s not possible to say what Reid would have carried out with the Democratic caucus over the previous three years. Possibly Sens. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) would have overmatched him in a 50-50 Senate, as they’ve President Joe Biden and Senate Majority Chief Chuck Schumer. Or perhaps Reid would have overseen a greater marketing campaign in 2020 that may have resulted in a stronger majority. Or insisted on a flooring vote for Construct Again Higher in July, or directed a Republican billionaire to construct a brand new on line casino in Morgantown, W.Va., to carry Manchin round. Genuinely nice leaders consider issues different folks don’t — that’s what makes them nice. No person can say simply how Reid would have salvaged Biden’s agenda, however it’s awfully laborious to think about him letting it rot within the Senate for eight months proper by way of an election.

Someday within the winter that straddled 2010 and 2011, I discovered myself being toured by way of the Capitol by Jim Manley, the identical man who had dismissed me over the cellphone in 2008. He detailed a bunch of political historical past that I not bear in mind, earlier than rigorously explaining why, precisely, he had responded the way in which he had on that botched cellphone name. Typically a public feud with a conservative ideologue will be productive, he mentioned. However typically it’s only a distraction. For those who see nothing to be gained, don’t remark and transfer on. If you recognize no person will learn the article, say what you suppose — however get it over with. Jim, it seems, is an actual gem of an individual. However not when it’s a waste of time. The identical could possibly be mentioned for his boss.

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