Harry Reid finally said goodbye.
Nevada’s retiring senior senator — notorious for ending phone calls without signing off — spoke for the final time as a top elected official to a Democratic presidential convention Wednesday. Reid got an unlikely rock-star greeting at the convention — a standing ovation accompanied by the crowd inside the Wells Fargo Center chanting his name over and over.
The speech was classic Reid, red-meat partisan and feisty as hell. Donald Trump is “a hateful con man,” Reid said. Republican claims of country first are “a joke,” he added. Republicans “want to tear down the pillars of middle-class security,” he said. And Reid dismissed his Senate rival, Mitch McConnell, as a craven Trump enabler.
It’s comments like these that have made Reid one of the most hated figures on the right and especially in his libertarian-leaning home state of Nevada. Reid’s gaffes are infamous, his rhetoric harsh and his unapologetic commitment to his party and its agenda all too often breaks the comparatively weak bonds of intellectual honesty.
The very mention of Reid’s name in a newspaper column is guaranteed to prompt an eruption of invective on voicemail, email and social media.
But not on Wednesday in Philadelphia. This was Harry Reid the partisan warrior, a man who has led Senate Democrats for the past nine years of his long political career. This is the Harry Reid who grew up poor in Searchlight in FDR’s America, who has cultivated a lifelong disdain for sons of privilege such as Mitt Romney (whom Reid bedeviled on the 2012 campaign trail with unproven allegations about unpaid taxes) or the Koch brothers (whom Reid disdains for their fossil fuel business). This was the Reid who says he’d rather dance than fight, but who’s clearly better at the latter.
“You have to stand up, even if you think you’re not going to win, if you think something is right,” Reid says at the end of a video produced to commemorate his career.
And stand up he has: Reid was essential to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, remade the rules of the Senate to allow judges and presidential appointees to be more easily appointed, and pressured power utility NV Energy to embrace more solar power.
That’s another reason Reid is so reviled on the right. When he fights, he usually wins.
After a mention of his “forever friend” Bernie Sanders, an endorsement of Hillary Clinton and a name-check for his chosen successor, Catherine Cortez Masto, Reid’s time at the podium was up. Usually, he would simply turn and walk away.
But this time, Reid paused, seeming to revel one last time in the cheers and chants of a national convention. For once, he seemed to actually enjoy the pageantry of politics instead of its pragmatic alter-ego, practiced behind closed doors with an insider’s grasp of the Byzantine rules of the Senate.
Before finally walking away, hand-in-hand with his wife, Landra, Reid even flashed a wry smile.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist. Follow him on Twitter @SteveSebelius or reach him at 702-387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.