The 10/25 New Yorker has a piece on the Nevada Senate race between Majority Leader Harry Reid and Tea Party challenger Sharron Angle. In it, author Nicholas Lemann observes that “Nevadans are being presented with a great clash of social visions: help from Washington with Reid versus less of Washington with Angle.”
Lemann is puzzled that Nevadans don’t want the “help” that Reid has trucked in from the Capitol. After considering various alternative explanations — including that Reid has a bad personality, that newcomers to Nevada don’t know about the senator’s many good works, or that Nevadans blame Reid for their state’s economic straits — Lemann writes, “Or, Sharron Angle could be right. Many Americans don’t want the government to help them.”
One anecdote reveals a subtler picture. After September 2008, CityCenter, the massive “mixed-use” casino complex under construction on the Vegas strip, ran aground. Financiers withheld loans as the economy melted down.
Reid saved the day with the clout that a majority leader wields. As Jim Murren, chief of CityCenter co-sponsor MGM, recounts to Lemann, “I asked [Reid] to call Ken Lewis of Bank of America, Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan, John Mack of Morgan Stanley, and I’m sure he did. … Reid called, the banks released the money, and we kept constructing.”
And Angle? Murren, whose company is Nevada’s biggest employer, tells Lemann that “Sharron Angle has never tried to meet” Murren. “She has said that she would not have made the calls that Reid made.”
Yet Reid has not found political advantage in distinguishing himself here.
Nevadans recoil at Reid’s “help” not out of anti-government ideology but out of common sense. Nevadans may simply understand that politicians’ sometimes-proud habit of asking bankers to direct their lending politically rather than economically is what helped get Nevada — and the rest of us — into this mess in the first place.
Nevadans may not reject all of the government’s possible avenues of “help.” Perhaps they would like a government, for example, that can assure that the financial firms with which Reid is on such intimate terms follow due process in foreclosures, so that the state’s property market is not tainted for decades with questions over ownership provenance.
But if the kind of government that’s on offer involves thwarting free-market processes rather than safeguarding their integrity, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Nevadans — and other Americans — choose less of it.
— Nicole Gelinas, contributing editor to the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, is author of After the Fall.