Harry Reid has long loved having it both ways, saying one thing and doing another, and otherwise refusing to admit to his own words and deeds. But last week’s dizzying display of denial was stunning, even by the Senate majority leader’s own low standards.
Reid has reached the pinnacle of power in Washington because of his mastery of rules and procedure, and his ability to look years ahead on the political chessboard. With that power, he has gained ever more leeway to hurl insults, engage in ruthless demagoguery and otherwise perform outrageous theater that, sadly, has come to define the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body under his watch. There’s no gravitas with Reid.
Increasingly, what comes out of the Nevadan’s mouth sounds less like a strategic diversion intended to change the national conversation, divert the media and rile up his base, and more like the ramblings of someone who doesn’t know Sunday from Monday.
Most of Reid’s headlines from last week were related to a campaign finance controversy. Reid paid his granddaughter, a jewelry designer, some $31,000 in campaign funds in 2012 and 2013 to create holiday gifts for his donors.
It goes without saying that nothing is a “gift” if you use someone else’s money to buy something for them. That’s called being a cheapskate. But being cheap isn’t against the law, and neither is employing family members as part of a campaign. A testy Reid said he’d done nothing wrong, then all but admitted as much when he announced he’d written a personal check to reimburse his campaign. If it were that easy for him to come up with the money, why didn’t he use personal funds in the first place?
What’s especially galling about Reid’s campaign finance blunder, however, is the fact that he has spent much of March hammering the industrialist/philanthropist Koch brothers as “about as un-American as anyone that I can imagine.” Over what? Using their own money to fund groups that criticize Obamacare, Reid and help elect Republicans. Reid is so mad at the Kochs, whose companies employ tens of thousands of people, that he had his own PAC fund a counterattack campaign smearing both GOP candidates and the brothers.
On Tuesday, a George Washington University Battleground poll found more than half of Americans have no idea who the Kochs are — and that more people have an unfavorable opinion of Reid than of the Kochs. It appears neither Reid’s “gifts” nor his PAC campaign were money well spent.
A Reid remark that received considerably less attention came Wednesday, when, in defending yet another extension of an Obamacare deadline, he said much of the country’s health insurance enrollment troubles happened because “people are not educated about how to use the Internet.”
Oh, that’s all? The Affordable Care Act became law only because of Reid’s masterful maneuvering in 2009. It was loaded with technology mandates, ordered the creation of Internet-based marketplaces for health insurance and was supposed to be the carrot that would lure healthy, tech-savvy twentysomethings into purchasing coverage. But Monday’s enrollment deadline had to be extended because “people are not educated about how to use the Internet”?
Obamacare isn’t failing because older Americans don’t know a keyboard from a browser. Obamacare is a noose around the necks of Democrats because it canceled the coverage of millions of Americans who were happy with their policies, doubling and sometimes tripling the prices of their policies, and cutting them off from the doctors and providers they’ve long used.
Of course, Reid famously remarked in February that Obamacare horror stories were “lies,” “stories made up from whole cloth.” All the price increases, all the cancellations, all the website woes, all the coverage issues. All lies. All of them. Never mind that Reid’s own staff was working to assist various Obamacare victims at the time.
On Wednesday, Reid added to the name-calling by calling out a new class of liars: the Republicans who had criticized him for labeling Obamacare horror stories as lies. Reid denied he ever said that problems with the law were fiction.
“I have never come to the floor, to my recollection, and I never said a word about any of the examples that Republicans have given regarding Obamacare and how it’s not very good,” Reid said on the Senate floor.
It’s hard to see the strategic value of that line. Look for the video to turn up in multiple campaign ads when he runs for re-election in 2016.
By then, we’ll have a much better idea whether the public believes Reid is crafty tactician, a hypocrite or someone who’s well past his prime.
Glenn Cook (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the Las Vegas Review-Journal’s senior editorial writer. Follow him on Twitter: @Glenn_CookNV. Listen to him Mondays at 4 p.m. on “Live and Local with Kevin Wall” on KXNT News Radio, 100.5 FM, 840 AM.