Sometimes in history the planets align themselves in such a sublime way as to conjoin powerful leaders with their perfect henchman: Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell, King Ferdinand and Tomás de Torquemada, Don Corleone and Luca Brasi, Goldfinger and Oddjob.
We can add to that pantheon President Barack Hussein Obama and Sen. Harry Mason Reid (D-NV) — truly a match made in heaven. Considered by many as two of the most polarizing politicians in U.S. history, responsible for one of the most obstructionist chapters in American politics, perhaps it is a fitting coda that they are leaving public service at the same time: Obama limited to two terms by the 22nd Amendment and Reid, ever true to his eccentric nature, resigning under murkier circumstances.
No, certainly not normal, because in Harry Reid’s world the ends always justify the means; where only winners make the rules and write history; where there is never a bridge too far nor a line too wrong that cannot be crossed; and where one is guilty until he proves himself innocent. Given this credo, is it any wonder that Reid that according to a 2013 Gallup poll he was characterized as “the most hated Congressional leader”; a man Megyn Kelly said had a “complete lack of integrity, complete lack of honesty, never mind respect for the American people”; a politician whose speeches and accusations, according to Sen. Tom CottonTom CottonSenators introduce new Iran sanctions Trump should ignore the business lobby and stick to immigration promises McConnell vows Senate will take up ObamaCare repeal next week MORE (R-Ark.) are “bitter, vulgar, incoherent ramblings,” that “would have made Joe McCarthy blush”; an insider who is continually on Judicial Watch’s Ten Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians list; and is simply “the worst living human being on this planet today”? Applying Reid’s own logic, make him prove otherwise.
Of course, there are those who would try to explain and excuse such a sterling record of repugnance by citing Reid’s bleak, hardscrabble upbringing. Born in 1939 in Searchlight, Nev. — a pinprick-of-a-town in the desert northwest of Laughlin whose glory days of gold-mining were long gone — Reid was raised in a wooden, slab-sided shack with no running water, no indoor toilet, and no communication with the outside world. He learned to swim at a nearby whorehouse. Grammar school was a no-frills two-room affair until he attended high school in another town—hitchhiking back and forth 90 miles each day. His father, a neer-do-well miner turned grave digger was a hard-drinking taskmaster, whose only love and wish was to be a miner and who seemed happiest when he was underground. His wish came true with a shotgun blast to the head. Harry Reid’s reaction to his father’s suicide: “He was probably bored. What else was he going to do?”
All of which brings us to Reid’s own retirement. Sharing his father’s singularity of hard work to a job you love, no one envisioned Reid’s departure from the Senate in anything but a body bag. Like the Phantom of the Opera, he seemed destined to lurk in the bowels of the Capitol forever— relishing his roles as Obama’s chief obstructionist and gatekeeper (at one point sitting on more than 350 House-passed bills) and willing attack dog against anyone who would deign to challenge him or any other Democrat. But loving his job suddenly wasn’t enough. Why the abrupt departure?
There are theories: Chief among them, and the most obvious, was Harry’s encounter with an exercise band on New Year’s Day 2015. Varying accounts have Reid working out with a rubber resistance band that suddenly snapped or slipped from a metal hook in the wall, sending him into a tailspin — ultimately falling and smashing his face into a bank of cabinets. The result: multiple broken facial bones, broken ribs, a concussion, and the loss of sight in his right eye. Both Reid and his wife are suing the workout-band manufacturer: he because the band was “defective (and) unreasonably dangerous” and she “for the loss of marital consortium.” And because he’s Harry Reid, there were also apocryphal stories of being beaten up by his younger, black sheep brother, Larry, as well as rumors of a mob beatdown. Of course Reid does have a history with the Las Vegas mob. When he served as Nevada’s gaming commissioner in the 1970s, his wife Landra found a bomb under their car.
Other less dramatic retirement explanations include: His age: he would be 83 at the end of his Sixth term. His questionable intervention in the strong-arming of the Department of Homeland Security — to fast-track and issue EB-5 visas to investors for a casino represented by his son Rory — something that would certainly raise the legal eyebrows of a new Republican administration. Many believe Reid bore responsibility for the devastating midterm losses in 2014, which represented not only a humiliating personal defeat but a very public rebuke of Barack ObamaBarack ObamaEx-Trump aide: Tillerson is ‘part of the swamp’ Rand Paul takes victory lap on GOP health bill FBI Director Comey visits White House MORE and his policies. Then, too, there was Reid’s home town newspaper taking him to task in the 5-4 Supreme court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, prompting him to rail, “The one thing we are going to do during this work period ... is to ensure that women’s lives are not determined by the virtues of five white men.” The paper quickly pointed out that one of the five majority justices was Clarence Thomas, who is black, and went on to say, “Senator Reid’s slip was no accident. He believes racial and ethnic minorities are ideologically monolithic constituencies who are incapable of independent or — gasp! — right-of-center thinking,” concluding that Reid “has become especially fond of slinging race cards just to crank up the outrage.” Finally, there is the realization that any re-election was never a slam-dunk, as Reid has long been identified as one of the most “vulnerable” of Democratic incumbents.
In the end, even though Harry Reid never forged a truly personal “ebony and ivory” connection with Barack Obama. Who really does? It wasn’t necessary. He had his hour on the stage and believes he fought the good fight. And like the moody, sallow-faced boxer of his youth, Reid will be content to say goodbye to the ring, hopefully without shedding a tear—the Harry way. And whenever that final fateful night comes, he will walk into the stark beauty and sweet loneliness of his beloved Nevada desert, throw his broadsword into the dust, and howl at the stars that made him.
La Valle is freelance writer in New York.
The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.