The irony of Harry Reid’s troubles

Published 7:38 pm Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in deep “caca” (that’s Spanish for trouble).

If it were not for the fact that just a few weeks ago, he crammed, rammed or jammed a huge dose of bad-tasting medicine down the throats of the American people, I might even feel sorry for him. But I don’t.

It is interesting, though, and ironic, that the trouble that he bought comes from what might be considered the most honest statement he has ever made. Perhaps only in America can a politician like Harry Reid lead a most egregious or outrageous effort to mess up the best health care in the world and be called a hero. Then, find himself in a political pickle and in danger of being forced to resign because he, probably innocently and without thinking, spoke of a presidential candidate’s skin color.

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Just think about it. You can rob the American people blind, put forth a completely fraudulent bill that affects one-sixth of the country’s economy, commit open bribery with congressional colleagues and be hailed as the man or woman of the year. But try to negotiate the mine field that is race in America and, in just a few words, even innocent and honest words, you can be thrown into the trashcan.

Harry Reid, on Christmas Eve, just a short few weeks ago was on top of Washington, D.C.’s political world. It didn’t matter that the name of his monumental bill was a crock. It was known, officially, as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act-Senate H.R. 3590.

Since it was written in the private office of Sen. Reid and without public access, I am at a loss to say exactly what the bill is about. Yet, somehow, somewhere deep in my experienced heart, I am not looking for too much patient protection and I am seriously in doubt about it helping me with health care affordability. Just in the name alone, there is plenty of space for Harry Reid’s trouble.

Then there are all those special deals he cut for those few votes that were so necessary. Let’s see.

There was Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. She was wavering in her support of Reid’s bill, but must have signaled that her vote could be bought. I don’t know just how she did that without being so obvious, but as it turned out she didn’t seem to care if everybody knew.

Most people thought that Reid paid 100 million of your dollars for Landrieu’s support. She let us know that she doesn’t come that cheaply. “It’s not $100 million, it’s $300 million.” Harry Reid might have gotten in trouble for such an obvious bribe, but he didn’t.

Next up was Joe Lieberman of Connecticut. Without Joe, it was no go. Reid could have stuck to his principles and let the chips fall where they may, but the chips would not have fallen his way. So, Joe and Harry had a powwow behind those famous closed doors, and Reid jettisoned a few concepts, made a few people mad, and got the vote he needed. Harry Reid could have gotten in trouble for doing what he did with Joe Lieberman, but he didn’t.

Next, it was Sen. Ben Nelson’s turn at the Reid trough. Nelson is one of the senators from Nebraska and quite a principled one it seemed. He was fighting for those innocents not yet born. I personally thought Nelson was the best chance of derailing Sen. Reid’s historic bill. The subject was abortion and, certainly, there could be no negotiation on this point.

I misread Sen. Nelson and underestimated Sen. Reid. I can’t say that it actually happened this way, but, as I understand it, Mr. Reid put on his best Bob Barker outfit and invited Mr. Nelson to “come on down and play ‘The Price is Right.’” Mr. Nelson and his state were the winners of the grand prize.

There was a concern that the new health care bill would bring so many new people into the system that it would place a terrific financial burden on the individual states and their share of the Medicare bill.

“No problem-o” said Senor Reid. “Why don’t we just write a new amendment into the bill and exempt your state from that undue burden?”

“But what about the other states,” Nelson might have asked. “Won’t they think I made an unfair deal?”

“They’ll never know what hit ‘em,” Reid said, as he winked and elbowed Nelson in the side. “Do we have a deal?”

“Sure,” Nelson said as he forgot all about abortion and those stubborn convictions. Harry Reid could have gotten in trouble for that wheeling and dealing, but he didn’t.

So what actually got Harry Reid into trouble? He told the truth. After all the finagling and wheeling and dealing and throwing your money at to-be-bought senators, Harry Reid said something about a person’s race. It happened to be about the president, but he could have said it about the person who serves Bill Clinton coffee.

Far from being derogatory, he was being complimentary of the first black president. Or at least he thought he was. His statement meant to say that Barack Obama was a special person for a special time. Unfortunately for Reid, his attempt to speak sensitively about the uniqueness of Obama was gauged as insensitive. In America, we don’t do racial conversations very well. That’s why we don’t have them.

He said, “The country was ready for a light-skinned African-American president with no Negro dialect, unless he wanted one.” I have heard many people weigh in on Reid’s words and they have categorized them as embarrassing, insensitive and inappropriate. The person who Reid was talking about, President Obama, called them “inartful.” I don’t think that I have read anyone say they were untrue. Reid has apologized to the president and his apology has been accepted.

My point in writing about the incident is this. As Senate Majority Leader, Harry Reid wrote a bill that the majority of Americans don’t like or want. He used his power and wiles to get it through. It is, by its own writer’s judgment, the most important piece of social legislation since the 1960s and on par with Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. It will affect all Americans in some way.

Yet those 2,500 pages of social change take a backseat to a few words about the color of a person’s skin and the way he talks. Sometimes I wonder about our priorities.