In a Thursday op-ed in the New York Times, Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada wrote ruefully on the occasion of his retirement, addressing what many liberals have described as the "post-truth" world. After all, how else could they have lost the 2016 election?
"Much of the responsibility for separating what is real and what is fake," Reid solemnly asserted, "will fall on Democrats."
What claptrap! And how ironic! For Reid will be best remembered not for his parliamentary skill, not for any bill he sponsored, not even for the controversial way in which he changed the rules of the Senate. Rather, he will be remembered for the amoral dishonesty of a hoax he played on the Senate floor, for which he remains completely unrepentant to this day. This is fitting, because there is no incident in Reid's career that better exemplifies the cynical leadership he brought to his party as its Senate leader.
Cloaked in legislative immunity, Reid told the Senate and the nation that he had it on good authority that Mitt Romney, then running against President Obama, had not any paid federal taxes in a decade. He described his source as an investor in Bain Capital, where Romney had worked.
This was a flat out lie, and has been proven false. But not only has Reid not apologized. He is proud of himself. When CNN's Dana Bash asked him about it a year ago, he replied glibly, "Romney didn't win, did he?"
More recently, Reid said he's especially proud that he was willing to commit this slander personally when everyone else around him had good enough judgment (or at least enough shame) not to do so.
"It's one of the best things I've ever done," he told the Washington Post. "I tried to get somebody else to do it. I tried to get somebody in the Obama 'reelect,' I tried to get one of the senators, I tried to get one of the outside groups, but nobody would do it. So I did it."
In the same interview, Reid said that if there was a line in political warfare that he would not cross, he hadn't found it yet. Well, that's candid, if nothing else.
This is Reid's morality: Win, at any cost, by any means necessary. It's a toxic worldview, and his years as a Senate leader have poisoned the institution he professes to love.
It would take too much space to describe here all his usurpations (such as "filling the tree") to demolish the traditions and practices, such as open debate and amendment processes. His actions pushed Republicans to filibuster in protest, and the Senate's comity gradually broke down. This led to Reid's most famous contribution to Senate procedure in 2013, when he demolished Senate precedent with the so-called "nuclear option."
With a simple majority vote and over strenuous objections from members of both parties, Reid torched decades of Senate precedent by taking away the Senate minority's ability to block most presidential nominations.
Reid had strenuously objected when Republicans considered doing the same thing a decade earlier to move President George W. Bush's judicial nominations. "You should not be able to come in here and change willy-nilly a rule of the Senate," he said. "It will change this body forever. We will be an extension of the House of Representatives, where a simple majority there can determine everything." Three years after that crisis, Reid called the threats of the nuclear option "a black chapter in the history of the Senate," and added, "I hope we never ever get to that again because I really do believe it will ruin our country."
But he didn't believe what he was saying. Reid's perspective changed dramatically after a Democratic president was elected and had the exact same trouble in the Senate. He "went nuclear" to help Obama, but history will record that in invoking the nuclear option, he actually freed the hand of President-elect Trump to appoint anyone he wanted to any executive branch position and to most federal judgeships, no matter how objectionable they were to Democrats.
Reid's largest legislative accomplishment is probably ushering Obamacare to passage. In one sense, this almost cost him his own Senate seat in 2010. In a very concrete way, though, passing Obamacare helped Reid win re-election, because he cut an apparent quid pro quo deal with drug lobby.
When the drug industry's trade group (the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America) arranged with Democrats to support the Senate healthcare bill in exchange for favorable provisions, the drug lobby explicitly promised to run ads on Reid's behalf in Nevada.
PhRMA followed through, and so did Reid. The bill he shepherded through the Senate trebled PhRMA's customer base through subsidies and by placing new demands on every member of the public. It placed no serious demands on drugmakers, nor did it upset the favorable treatment they were receiving under existing law, such as the ban on drug re-importation. The drug industry and its lobbyists subsequently showered him and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee with donations.
This was nothing new for Reid, who had previously used his power in the Senate to craft legislation for major donors. One of those donors, Harvey Whittemore, was released from prison in May after serving a sentence for illegally reimbursing straw-man donors who gave money to Reid. Reid was never implicated in the crime, but he was grateful for the donations from this man, who had also hired one of his sons as his lawyer.
Reid drafted a law to benefit Whittemore, which moved a federal electrical power corridor (where development would have been forbidden) away from land that Whittemore wanted to develop. Reid's bill moved the corridor instead onto federal land set aside for "wilderness study."
These are but a few examples of Reid's amoral and disgraceful tenure. We could bring up other things, as when he called Obama's predecessor a "loser" and a "liar." We could mention the wealth he amassed in his decades of "public service", through investments and deals that again and again seemed to overlap with his activity as a legislator.
But what really makes Reid stand apart is his nihilistic pursuit of victory at all costs, with no regard for anyone else's good name, and certainly none for his own.
The Senate and political Washington are worse for Reid's service. We'll be ready to regret his departure from Capitol Hill when the nation no longer has reason to regret that he ever arrived there.