Tuesday, April 24, 2007

When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to take a shot last week at the president’s Iraq policies, he missed, wide left: “This war is lost,” he said. The remark prompted outrage in Washington — how it was received by soldiers deployed in Iraq, or by those who would see America defeated in the region, is another matter. Democrats were quick to put their leader back on message. “As long as we follow the president’s path in Iraq, the war is lost,” Mr. Reid hedged later that day on the floor of the Senate.

That wasn’t the first time Mr. Reid needed to be put back in line. In December he appeared on ABC’s “This Week” and said, twice, that he supported a surge in troop levels that was temporary and a part of a larger plan, drawing the ire of the anti-war left. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Reid pulled a maladroit about-face. “The surge is a bad idea,” he concluded in a Jan. 5 letter to President Bush.

Senate Democrats can rest assured that at least their leader has an eye on the bottom line, although they may be disappointed with his willingness to gab about it with the press. Mr. Reid told reporters this month that “we’re going to pick up Senate seats as a result of this war. Sen. [Chuck] Schumer has shown me numbers that are compelling and astounding.” Talking out of one side of his mouth, Mr. Reid claims not to follow polls but to hew only to his own sense of what is right. Out of the other, ongoing problems in Iraq mean electoral success. Political duplicity doesn’t get any more transparent than that.

Mr. Reid also went after the president to round out his criticism of the Iraq war. Mr. Reid called Mr. Bush a “loser,” quickly backtracking (again) and apologizing, and has also called the president a liar, compared him to Lyndon Baines Johnson and said he was in a state of denial. Rather personal? Not from the senator that called the highly esteemed former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan “one of the biggest political hacks we have in Washington.”

Running to the front of the line to pretend to be leading has become something of a routine for Mr. Reid. Around the time he became majority leader, he met with leading Republicans and assured them that he didn’t plan to be an obstructionist. That was a promise Mr. Reid did not deliver on; some of his Democratic colleagues thought more highly of obstructionism than did their erstwhile leader, and Mr. Reid obliged the obstructionists.

Mr. Reid’s political opportunism is by no means limited to his ever-evolving views on Iraq. After the Supreme Court upheld a ban on partial-birth abortion — a ban that he voted for in 2003 — Mr. Reid criticized the ruling, saying “a lot of us wish that [Justice Samuel] Alito weren’t there and [Justice Sandra Day] O’Connor were there.”

If Mr. Reid wants to help win the war in Iraq, as he claims, he first needs to get a handle on his own discordant views.

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