“Anybody could have worked for Soze. You never knew; that was his power.”
— The Usual Suspects (1995)
The most important, underreported, and poorly understood story in this election cycle — and perhaps American politics — is the degree to which so much hinges on one man: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D., Nev.).
As majority leader, Reid has single-handedly taken control of the national agenda in ways that rival the president’s authority. He has unilaterally brought the Senate to a standstill and shielded vulnerable incumbent senators from tough votes in order to protect his position of power. And it isn’t just Republicans who are complaining.
As the Washington Free Beacon reported, Senator Mark Pryor (D., Ark.) was recently caught on tape telling donors, “I think possibly the best thing that could happen . . . to this institution, this election cycle would be if [Senate minority leader] Mitch McConnell gets beat and Harry Reid gets replaced.”
This is damaging to Pryor because it raises an obvious question: If he was so unhappy with Reid as leader, why didn’t he ever take action to replace him? Like virtually every Democrat in the Senate, he is afraid of openly challenging Reid’s authoritarian style.
Pryor’s private complaint and public inaction points to the real story of 2014. The reality is that there are no red-state Democrats in the Senate. There are only Reid-state Democrats. Reid alone sets the agenda of every state represented by a Democrat or liberal independent. He is, in effect, the third and most senior senator in each of those states. The implication for voters is this: If you want Harry Reid to be your senator, vote for the Democrat or independent (i.e., in Kansas, Greg Orman).
For someone who brags about his boxing background, Reid is surprisingly afraid of a fair fight. He has lorded over one of the least productive Senates in American history. Twice as often as all other majority leaders combined in our history, he has blocked senators from offering amendments. Note: When Senator Kelly Ayotte (R., N.H.) offered an amendment that was a clever referendum on Reid’s tactic of blocking other amendments, every Democrat, including Pryor, backed Reid, except Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
The media don’t report this story because they have bought into Reid’s argument that Republicans are just as bad. But they aren’t. Since July 2013, Reid has allowed 14 roll-call votes on Republican amendments. During this same time, House Speaker John Boehner (R., Ohio) has allowed 194 votes on Democrat amendments.
Reid doesn’t fight fairly, but he does fight. He is a more ruthless, determined, and effective tactician than anyone in the White House, including the president. Without Reid in charge of the Senate, there’s a slim but real chance that Barack Obama will rediscover his inclination to work with Republicans, as in the Senate he worked with Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) before Reid was majority leader. With Reid in charge, however, the next two years shape up to be an orgy of executive action and legislative paralysis, unless congressional action suits Reid’s narrow partisan interests.
But there’s little evidence Reid is interested in doing anything. If such areas of possible compromise as tax reform were high on his agenda, we would have seen action already.
Reid is concerned with power, not progress. He believes he has the right to pick not only the minority’s amendments but his own party’s amendments as well. He has caged or tamed the old liberal lions and ridicules his supposedly moderate colleagues who flirt with bipartisan deals. When a group of senators tried the revive the Simpson-Bowles debt-commission report, he derided the bipartisan discussions as “happy talk.”
Democrats have fun describing former Clinton aide and Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel as their “Godfather.” But true powerbrokers and kingpins are less flamboyant. Reid is the quiet guy in the corner pulling the strings. He is the Keyser Soze of American politics, the mythical criminal mastermind played by Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects. Like Soze, Reid hides in plain sight and disguises his power through misdirection and feigned weakness.
In one of the great reveals in movie history, just after Spacey’s mild-mannered character leaves the detective’s office, the detective (played by Chazz Palminteri) races out to catch the elusive kingpin and Soze breaks from his fake limp into a walk, and the film ends.
Like Soze, Reid limps through public life perpetually perplexed and disappointed in his “friends” on the other side of the aisle who keep standing in the way of progress. But thanks to Pryor, Reid’s walk may have been revealed.
— John Hart is the editor-in-chief of OpportunityLives.com, an online magazine about conservative solutions, and former communications director to Senator Tom Coburn (R., Okla.).