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Like a pre-reform-era politician, Mr. Reid entered public service relatively poor and will leave it as a multimillionaire. He has granted lucrative favors to casinos and rich investors who hired his sons’ legal firm. While in office, he made considerable profits on private business and real estate deals. Some of those who donated to his campaigns got favorable government treatment.

Mr. Reid recently paid his granddaughter thousands of dollars from his campaign war chest to make jewelry gifts for his donors and friends. Only after a storm of criticism did he reimburse his campaign fund.

So how does Mr. Reid’s reckless career continue with the Senate leader avoiding the sort of congressional censure that finally did in McCarthy? Why is there is no progressive muckraker to take on Mr. Reid the way that Edward R. Murrow once exposed McCarthy?

For the left, Mr. Reid’s utility as an attack dog (like McCarthy’s utility to Republicans) outweighs the downside of his crude bombast.

His lurid, unsubstantiated charges against Mr. Romney were helpful in demonizing the candidate as a rich grandee. His untruths about Gen. Petraeus helped shore up Democrats’ antiwar credentials during the 2008 campaign. Environmentalists did not object to his character assassination of nuclear-power advocate Mr. Magwood.

Mr. Reid’s viciousness also serves as a deterrent. Why tangle with the anything-goes senator when it means endlessly replying to a litany of smears?

Part Tammany Hall-style fixer, part pre-civil rights Democrat and part demagogic Joe McCarthy, Harry Reid is a throwback to a type of American politics better left forgotten.

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian for the Hoover Institution at Stanford University.