- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is not only getting a failing re-election grade from his Nevada constituents, but zero scores in senatorial decorum and U.S. legislative history, too.

In an appalling political attack against the Republicans, delivered on the Senate floor Monday in the midst of the health care debate, he compared his Republican colleagues to past Senate opponents of the movements to end slavery and enact civil rights laws.

It was a new low in political spite, even for Mr. Reid, who has embarrassed his office, his party and the Senate on numerous occasions with his name calling and hateful partisan attacks.

In a nutshell, Mr. Reid charged that the Republicans were using the same stalling and blocking tactics that were used to preserve slavery and fight civil rights law for black Americans.

“Instead of joining us on the right side of history, all the Republicans can come up with is, ‘slow down, stop everything, let’s start over.’ If you think you’ve heard these same excuses before, you’re right. When this country belatedly recognized the wrongs of slavery, there were those who dug in their heels and said ‘slow down, it’s too early … things aren’t bad enough,’ ” Mr. Reid said.

“When this body was on the verge of guaranteeing equal civil rights to everyone regardless of the color of their skin, some senators resorted to the same filibuster threats that we hear today,” he added.

But if Mr. Reid is as ignorant about U.S. history as he appears to be about what the pending health care bill will do to America’s medical care system and its economy, this country is in more trouble than it realizes.

It was the abolitionist Lincoln Republicans who fought to abolish slavery, not to defend it or slow it down. And it was powerful Southern Democratic leaders in the Senate who supported the filibuster fights against civil rights bills in the 1950s and 1960s - men like Sens. Herman Talmadge of Georgia; James Eastland and John Stennis of Mississippi; Sam Ervin of North Carolina; Richard Russell Jr. of Georgia; J. William Fulbright of Arkansas; and, as a Democrat, Strom Thurmond of South Carolina.

Indeed, it was the Republicans - led by Senate Minority Leader Everett Dirksen of Illinois - who eventually provided the votes that broke the civil rights impasse by Mr. Reid’s party in the ‘60s.

His intemperate attack triggered a torrent of Republican anger. “To suggest that passing this horrible bill is anything akin to ridding our country of slavery is terribly offensive and calls into question Mr. Reid’s suitability to lead,” said Republican National Chairman Michael Steele.

“Today Harry Reid wandered far out of bounds with his absurd and offensive comments. This is inexcusable, deeply insulting and an arrogant abuse of the Democrat Party’s unchecked power in Congress,” Mr. Steele said in a statement.

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, said Mr. Reid’s low-road charges that compared the Republicans who oppose the health care bill to those lawmakers who defended slavery was “extremely offensive. It’s language that should never be used, never be used,” he told Fox News.

Said Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn: “I think it’s beneath the dignity of the majority leader. I personally am insulted.”

Exactly what triggered Mr. Reid’s explosive racial attack at this point in the health care debate isn’t clear right now. There is a long line of Republican amendments still waiting to be taken up as polls show public support for the Democrats’ massive bill eroding, and it is far from certain that he will be able to corral the 60 votes needed for a final vote.

There is even more pressure on him back home, where a Mason-Dixon poll this week showed Mr. Reid’s voter approval rating has plummeted to 38 percent.

Support for his health care bill has fallen to 39 percent, with 53 percent opposed, including a stunning 53 percent of independents.

“Not only does this [polling] snapshot of his personal popularity look lousy, Nevadans remain substantially disconnected from his crowning achievement as a legislator and leader: health care ‘reform.’ A win for Reid on health care is a loss for him in Nevada,” said the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Nevada’s largest newspaper.

Among Mason-Dixon’s other findings: Nevadans are opposed to the government-run health care option by 55 percent to 30 percent; 80 percent believe it will lead to higher taxes; 55 percent say it will result in medical care rationing; and by a margin of 54 percent to 25 percent, they believe it will lead to cuts in Medicare ($400 billion in cuts, to be exact).

“Reid is going to be front and center carrying the flag for this reform that few people like, and that’s not going to help him in his re-election,” Mason-Dixon pollster Brad Coker told the Review-Journal. There is a long line of Republicans vying to run against Mr. Reid next year, and the Mason-Dixon poll shows the front-runners beating him, including former state Republican official Sue Lowden, by 51 percent to 41 percent, with 8 percent undecided.

With Nevada’s jobless rate at a politically deadly 12.6 percent, Mr. Reid may join a long line of past party leaders like House Speaker Tom Foley and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle who were swept out of office for being far more liberal than the voters they represented.

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent of The Washington Times.

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