Honor Pugilist Harry Reid’s (1939-2021) Memory —Get into the Political Boxing Ring and Fight Unceasingly for Victory in Campaign 2022 December 30, 2021
The tributes from both sides of the political aisles have been deservedly pouring in since former Democratic U.S. Senate Minority and Majority leader Harry Reid (82) died on 12/28/2021 after a four-year battle with pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest malignancies (latimes.com, Montero & Hook, 12/29/21). This vicious killer has recently taken the lives of former Atlanta, GA Democratic Congressman John Lewis and Supreme Ct. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. First Lady Claudia Taylor, aka Lady Bird Johnson, had an older brother Tommy who also died in 1959 of pancreatic cancer (Swan & C-SPAN, “First Ladies,” 2015, Cohen & Cook 2022 Political Almanac). A clergyman who married some close relatives in my family tragically died from this disease as well as far too many others that I have known. Hopefully, medical science will soon find a way to detect this disease in an early curable stage.
Nevadan Reid embodied the American Dream and “beat the medical and political odds” throughout his life. Reid, born in the town of Searchlight, Nevada, 60 miles from Las Vegas, lived in extreme poverty with no indoor toilet in a house built out of railroad ties (washingtonpost.com, 12/28/21). When he was growing up, the gold mining boom had gone bust and prostitution was the town’s economic driver. According to his biography, “The Good Fight,” Reid learned to swim in a whorehouse. In order to better himself, Reid enrolled in high school in Henderson, NV, outside Las Vegas, where he lived with relatives and hitchhiked home on weekends. At Henderson’s Basic High School, Reid won his first election as student body treasurer in his junior year. At Basic High, he met classmate Reynaldo Martinez, who later became his campaign manager. Reid also met his future wife Landra Gould, and a social studies teacher named Mike O’Callaghan. O’ Callaghan became Reid’s best friend over the years. After high school, Reid had a short career as a boxer in southern Utah’s Cedar City. Reid went to law school at George Washington University. While in law school, he supported his growing family by becoming a U.S. Capitol police officer (washintonpost.com, 12/28/21). Returning to NV, he practiced law in the 1960’s in Henderson. Reid, with O’Callaghan’s encouragement, successfully ran for Lt. Governor of NV while O’Callaghan won the governorship in 1970. In 1972, Reid buried his alcoholic and depressed father after he committed suicide. Reid became a convert to Mormonism because Mormons church members had treated him kindly (latimes.com, Montero & Hook, 12/29/21). Reid, however, was never afraid to buck popular opinion. Though most Mormons were and remain GOPers, Reid stayed a Democrat and never feared to speak his mind. When the Mormon church bankrolled Proposition 8 in CA which denied marriage rights to gay couples, Reid called it a “colossal mistake.” He said that the Mormon church “made fools of themselves by backing the ballot measure.” Reid hoped that he had inspired other Mormons to have the strength to oppose this measure which was later legally thrown out (See latimes.com, 12/29/21).
Reid’s national political career did not take off immediately. He suffered serious setbacks. In 1974, Reid, after serving one term as Lt. Gov. ran for the U.S. Senate against GOPer Paul Laxalt, a former NV Gov. and close friend of then CA Gov. Ronald Reagan. In the 1974 Democratic year when Nixon had resigned over Watergate, Republican Laxalt still beat Reid by 1,000 votes. Reid next unsuccessfully ran for mayor of Las Vegas (latimes.com, 12/29/21). In 1977, O’Callaghan asked Reid to head NV’s gaming commission which regulates gambling in that state. Reid, a non-gambler, ended up putting violent mobster Tony “The Ant” Spilotro into the Black Book, a list kept by NV which forbid those on it from entering any casino. Reid also had Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal put in that book. The 1995 movie “Casino,” made Reid’s opposition to Rosenthal famous. Reid stated he always carried a gun. His Las Vegas office was regularly evacuated for bomb threats. At least once, his car appeared to be wired to explode, but didn’t due to a defective fuse (latimes.com, 12/29/21, Montero & Hook, Maltin’s 2003 Movie & Video Guide). In 1982, Reid ran for the U.S. House and served two terms there. He became close friends with the CA delegation, including San Francisco Democrat, Nancy Pelosi, then chair of the CA Democratic Party, now House Speaker. In 1986, after GOPer Paul Laxalt announced he would retire from the Senate, Reid won that seat. He continued to be re-elected. He served 30 years or five terms in the Senate despite NV’s reputation as a conservative state and Reid’s own gradual shift to more liberal stands. He initially supported gun rights and opposed abortion, but moved to the left on those issues. In 2014, a GOP year, Reid won his last Senate election fighting off extremist Sharon Angle whom many pundits thought would beat him (See latimes.com, 12/29/21). Reid’s support helped Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto win his former Senate seat in 2016. Reid was instrumental in Democrat Jackie Rosen’s 2016 win of a NV House seat, and her taking a Senate seat in 2018 (See latimes.com, 12/29/21, Cohen & Cook Almanac 2022). Reid built a powerful Democratic political machine in NV and recently helped move that state into the “Blue” column (See latimes.com, 12/29/21).
In the Senate, Reid’s career took off. He became a whip and ultimately the Minority Leader when Sen. Tom Daschle (D-SD) lost his seat in 2004. When Democrats took control of the Senate in 2006, Reid became the Senate Majority Leader. He was instrumental in pushing Chuck Schumer (D-NY) into the ranks of Democratic leadership and making him his successor, first as Minority Leader and now as Majority Leader (Cohen & Cook 2022). Reid grew to revere the rules of the Senate and became a first- rate tactician. Former pugilist Reid used those rules to play hard ball to block GOPers. GOPers, who are led by “obstructionist” king Mitch McConnell (R-KY), had the nerve to call Reid a master obstructionist. However, IMHO, the soft-spoken but tough acting Reid gave the GOP a proper taste of hardball medicine. He refused to surrender to GOP bullying tactics. He did not play politics as still too many Democrats do by bringing a “knife to a gun fight.” Despite his partisan skill, Reid loved that chamber’s deliberative nature. He was still able to compromise and craft policy with the GOP and considered many “Team Red” lawmakers to be his friends (latimes.com, 12/29/21).
Reid was best known for helping get the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare through the Senate without one GOP vote. Reid described that situation and other legislative hurdles he faced as similar to “being at bat with the bases loaded and I’ve got to get a hit or somehow figure out a way to move the runners along—we need another run.” And Reid usually got those RBI’s, “runs batted in.” Reid also had a personal motive for passing Obamacare. In Searchlight, there were no doctors or dentists. A brother of his lay in bed with a broken leg from a bicycle accident. Because no doctors were available, his brother’s leg healed crookedly. Reid’s mother lost her teeth after she was hit by a softball. Reid himself was once so sick that he ended up asking a friend to drive him to a hospital in Henderson. When hospitalized, he was treated for an intestinal infection that he learned could have killed him (latimes.com, 12/29/21). As President Biden noted, Reid, unlike many other lawmakers, never forgot his humble roots.
And in 2013, master tactician Reid made a very crucial decision that pundits and many Democrats were queasy about, but now realize was absolutely essential. The GOP was refusing to pass just about any of President Obama’s judicial nominees and federal appointees, paralyzing the government and overriding the results of Obama’s 2012 re-election. To stop this gridlock, Reid got his fellow Democrats to eliminate the filibuster for presidential federal appointments and judicial nominees. This move was called the “nuclear option,” because opponents said it would “blow up” the Senate. This move allowed the party to confirm judicial and federal picks by a simple 51 majority vote, rather than hit a 60-vote filibuster-proof threshold (latimes.com, 12/29/21). Because of this move, Obama was able to appoint many liberal federal judges and progressive Cabinet and sub-Cabinet appointees. And Biden was able to push through a record-setting group of diverse and liberal federal judges in record time that would have been stymied by the GOP (Daily Kos, Good News Roundup 12/25/21). Yes, McConnell, when he became Majority Leader in 2015, pushed through a series of reactionary judges and later used the nuclear option to put three right-wing Supreme Court Justices on the bench. However, in my book, getting Biden’s progressive judge as well as other federal appointees through with just 51 votes, normal democracy, is worth everything. And this move brings us closer to abolishing the filibuster in general, a Jim Crow segregation relic originally put into place by none other than Alexander Hamilton’s killer Aaron Burr. Reid once jokingly complained that McConnell had made use of the filibuster so bad that the Senate needed 60 votes to “just about turn off the lights in that building.” Kudos, Harry Reid for getting us closer to abolishing the filibuster (See latimes.com, 12/29/21)! Reid rightly attacked GOPers for destroying the federal government’s ability to help people by attacking “big government,” and then when a disaster like Hurricane Katrine hit, being unable to respond (latimes.com). And while it took the fatal 1/06/2021 coup attempt by Trump fanatics to make most in the media understand the anti-democracy attitudes of Trump and his MAGA gang, Reid spoke about this way before anyone else in no uncertain terms. Reid had previously called Demagogue Donald a “scammer in chief” and a “con artist.” While the GOP “boo-hooed” about Reid’s “nasty” comments, Reid refused take them back. In 2016, Reid aptly called Trump a “human leech who will bleed the country and sit at his golf resort laughing at the money he has made, even though working people have been hurt and ruined (latimes.com, 12/29/21).” Yes, those remarks attacking an American occupant of the Oval Office are extremely strong, but Trump deserved them and then some. As Reid early recognized, we have never had an American Chief Executive who did not believe in the principles of democracy and was a blatant lover of authoritarianism.
Harry Reid’s life on this earth has ended. However, we Democrats must recall what he stood for and honor his legacy. How do we do that? We must first remember that Reid was a boxer all his life, whether in the ring or in politics. He would tell us to stop buying the gloom and doom that most major media outlets are pushing—that the GOP will take back the House and Senate in 2022. Carry on despite the Democratic retirements, many of them in safe “Blue” districts. Fight, fight, fight! We have more of a platform to stand on than GOPers do. We must use every left and right hook we’ve got. And we have plenty of those in our political arsenal. Reid would tell Democrats to tout Biden’s numerous achievements 48/7 without stop. He would start with the fact that over 200 million Americans have been vaccinated in a very successful roll out. Only the anti-vaxxers, egged on by the GOP “noise machine,” the small 30% minority , will suffer hospitalization and death from the milder Omicron mutation of COVID-19. Reid would argue that Democrats should talk about the fact that they passed a strong COVID-19 relief bill and a stimulus package the likes of which have not been seen since the 1930’s New Deal. Reid would point to the fact that Biden quickly alleviated any supply chain problems and that inflation is going down. Yes, Joe Manchin’s (D-WVA’s) refusing to pass the BBB (Build Back Better) social legislation that will help give pre-schoolers education, child credits, and cheaper insulin to diabetics, is a bad disappointment. Reid would attack Manchin’s narrow-mindedness and debt to the coal barons. He would force Manchin to remember the poor people in WVA that he says he represents. They, like the rest of the U.S., overwhelmingly support BBB. Reid would also argue that not one of 50 GOPers have yet shown the decency to cross the aisle to vote for this popular bill. Just one of them could make Manchin irrelevant. Paging Collins, Murkowski, Romney, and WVA’s own Shelley Moore Capito! Reid would aim to hit some RBI’s here. He would get Manchin to agree to some of the BBB provisions to slide it safely across home plate. Reid would make the 1/06/2021 House Democratic Committee explain quite clearly to the public why democracy is precious and how we almost lost it under Donald and his enablers. He would push Democrats to use this information on the campaign trail to attack the GOP as the Trump/MAGA party.
Democrats would further honor Reid’s legacy by getting a filibuster carveout to the Voting Rights Bill so that only 51 votes would be needed to protect millions of Americans the GOP wants to disenfranchise. The Senate already did this to get over the debt ceiling. If repeated attempts to abolish the filibuster or voting rights fail, Democrats should, in memory of Reid, call for the election of more “Blue” Senators who would abolish this tactic and make Manchin and Sen. Sinema (D-AZ) irrelevant. If the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) overturns pro-choice or badly guts the Roe decision, Democrats, in Reid’s memory, must come out in droves plus to defend this right. Democrats must also not whine about GOP gerrymandering. CA, Il, MD, and NY look like they will add to the “Blue” total. Democrats are, under Biden’s Justice Dept., already suing GOP TX’s awful gerrymandering. Lawsuits in NC, OH, and other states may give us more seats. Reid would push for strong Democratic grassroots activists, not just in NV, but all across the nation. Reid never ran away from a hard fight, and we must not either. Our 2022 New Years’ resolution—stop the Democratic gloom and doom. Back Biden. We have already accomplished so much and can do much more. Do this in memory of Harry Reid.