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How Happy Harry Reid lost his groove

January 5, 2009 |  7:14 am

Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada on a good day

This was not a happy holiday season for Happy Harry Reid.

Normally, the guy from Nevada is a laugh-riot. He'll turn 70 this year but doesn't look a day over 78.

It just seems the Senate majority leader has encountered one problem after another in recent days. Things looked so rosy right after the Nov. 4 election with his enhanced Democratic majority and a shot at a Republican-proof 60 seats. He even got rid of that old crank, GOP Sen. Ted Stevens from Alaska.

But the warm feelings melted quickly after the loss of the Georgia runoff when the has-been ticket of Bill Clinton and Al Gore went down there to campaign for Jim Martin and helped overwhelmingly reelect Republican Saxby Chambliss.

With Barack Obama winning the White House and the president-elect's Senate seat opening up, Harry blithely phones Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich, a few days before the governor's arrest, to helpfully offer his collegial thoughts on the strongest nominees out there and, oops, soon finds himself on a federal wiretap whose full contents the world awaits.

To help counter any whispers about a developing Democratic culture of corruption, Reid was among the first to denounce the unconvicted Blagojevich, to demand his resignation and to state flatly that ...

... his Senate would never seat a Blago appointee. In fact, he's alerted Senate guards should such a culprit attempt entry.

Our good blogging buddy with the better memory, Carl Lavin over at, has come up with a forgotten Harry Reid quote from a time when another prominent Democrat was accused of wrongdoing and up before the Senate. The accused was President Clinton. We won't spoil the entire Reid quote; you can find that here.

But here's part of what Harry said about flawed people with great dreams back in 1999 concerning another accused Democratic officeholder:

"Great dreams are dreamed by people with human flaws. Great policies and actions are sometimes set in motion by those with broken souls. Great deeds are not always done by good men."

In the true Illinois political tradition of an elbow to the mouth just for fun, Gov. Blagojevich deftly leaks that Harry's Senate recommendation was not to pick any of the three black possibilities but to go with the white woman or the Asian American one. But like many Chicago pols, Rod's played hardball since pre-K. He proceeds to nominate another black, Roland Burris, an experienced statewide officeholder who's never lost to a Republican.

So Harry, who denies opposing blacks like Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., finds himself in the public perception of lobbying against three blacks and threatening to bar a fourth from taking the seat of a fifth black and becoming the only African American senator.

On Sunday, Reid, the federal government's highest-ranking Mormon, waSenator Harry Reid of Nevada and president-elect Barack Obamas denying that he's against blacks and in fact, he said, he once helped get one appointed to a court.

Mr. Burris goes to Washington.  Blagojevich's pick is a year older than Harry, and he's been around the ballot box a few times himself in Cook County, which keeps a lot of spare ballot boxes on hand.

Burris says all reasonable and friendly-like that he's been legally nominated by an as yet unimpeached governor and intends to show up for the new Congress come Tuesday to give the people of Illinois the full representation they deserve as any decent public servant would do. What could possibly be wrong with that?

Which sets up a scenario of guards or Harry barring the door to a black just like Gov. George C. Wallace down in Alabama lo those many years ago.

But it won't come to that. That's not change to believe in. Harry let slip Sunday something about being an old trial lawyer and knowing that, goshdarnit, in politics everything is open to negotiation. Show of hands here; who's betting on Blago's guy?

Now, after these 22 long years in the exclusive Senate (and four years before that in the House gang), now Reid can't call the president dumb and the worst one ever anymore.

He's got to actually work with him. The new chief executive is a young fellow, who barely spent a half-term in the club, much of it campaigning for another job elsewhere.

And Harry's got to explain to the popular president-elect early this week why his economic stimulus package is mired in the legislature, despite an enlarged Democratic majority, and can't be ready in time for the historic inauguration on Jan. 20. How does that work again?

Not to mention Harry's own reelection next year.

And we all remember what happened to the last Senate Democratic leader, whose name is Tom Daschle. Not only did he lose reelection to a Republican, but now he's gotta work as the secretary of Health and Human Services.

--Andrew Malcolm

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Photo credits: Harry Reid on a good day. Associated Press. Reid, almost smiling, and Barack Obama. Getty Images