[Marxism] New Senate Democratic leader will "make the trains run on time"

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Sun Nov 14 09:00:35 MST 2004

NY Times, November 14, 2004
New Democratic Leader in Senate Is Atypical Choice

WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 - He is a teetotaling Mormon, a former Capitol Hill 
police officer who opposes abortion and was a cosponsor of the 
constitutional amendment banning flag-burning. He is a little-known 
senator from a red state whose considerable skills do not include being 
a compelling presence on television or behind a lectern.

Yet for all that, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, who is about to become 
the new Senate minority leader, has risen from the gray battlefield of 
the Democratic campaign and is about to become one of the two most 
powerful Democrats in Washington - at a time when his party is hungering 
for help.

His overwhelming embrace by fellow Democrats in the Senate suggests the 
extent to which his party may need to reposition itself, both 
ideologically and geographically, for the difficult years ahead. But it 
is also is a matter of circumstance: Mr. Reid has turned out to be in 
the right place at a time of a Democratic leadership void left by the 
election and the imminent departure of the party chairman, Terry McAuliffe.

Mr. Reid, 64, is a cagey inside player, who sewed up his party's support 
to replace Senator Tom Daschle of South Dakota - who lost his race for 
re-election in another glum marker for the party - before Senator John 
Kerry even conceded. In a short interview the day after Election Day, 
Mr. Reid said that even after losing four seats, he did not think that 
his party was as far out of power as suggested by many of his colleagues.

"We still have 45," he said. "I think it is very clear on matters of 
principle that we can stand our ground."

But it is hardly clear to his allies that Mr. Reid, with his round 
glasses, plain face and soft-spoken manner, is the man to replace Mr. 
Daschle as the loyal if lonely face of the Democratic opposition, 
soldiering on from news conferences to television studios.

"The idea that people are looking at Harry to sort of be the 
spokesperson of the Democratic Party, that's not a role all majority 
leaders have filled before," said Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of 
Delaware. "I can't picture Harry on the Sunday shows every Sunday. I 
don't think that's his strength. His real strength is inside baseball, 
knowing the Senate, knowing the procedures."

Still, it is notable that even the most liberal of Democrats are 
rallying around this man who is a minority within a minority: a 
Westerner whose views on some issues are closer to the White House than 
they are to his new caucus of Democrats. His choice as minority leader, 
which will become formal with a vote on Tuesday, was arrived at almost 
by consensus, reflecting the extent to which Democrats are soberly 
reappraising the landscape.

"When you look a presidential election where we lost in every age group 
except one, I think it time to do some reassessment - and that's one 
reason why I'm glad Harry is there," said Senator Dianne Feinstein, 
Democrat of California. "I believe very strongly that the voice of the 
moderates of our caucus ought to have some sway. I have noticed in the 
past that all the gravitas has slid to the left. All one has to do is 
look at the map to know that you can't win a presidential election that 

"If we keep going on this way, we'll be a minority party," she added.

The advisers to Mr. Reid, who is close to Mr. Bush, said he did not want 
to grant full-scale interviews until after the leadership vote, but in 
brief remarks, the senator said he would not let his closeness to the 
president affect the way he deals with him. "I will not tell him what he 
wants to hear," he said. "I will represent my caucus."

He rejected any comparisons with his predecessor. He spoke warmly of Mr. 
Daschle, but said, "In the year to come, I am going to do everything I 
can to put my stamp on the style of leadership."

Some Democrats looking for a ray of light in the election argued that 
Mr. Reid's amiability might make it harder for the White House to 
demonize him.

"When the conservative talk show hosts start saying bad things about 
Harry Reid, it will be like attacking Mr. Rogers," Senator Ben Nelson, 
Democrat of Nebraska, said of Mr. Reid, who shares Mr. Rogers's 
affection for a cardigan.

Other Democrats were less sanguine, suggesting his manner could deprive 
the Democrats of the advocate they would need at least until the next 
presidential campaign. Mr. Reid suggested an awareness of Democratic 

"I don't try to be anything other than what I am," Mr. Reid said. "We 
have such a talented caucus. You're going to see more than my face on 
the Sunday talk shows. "

Mr. Reid's legislative skills are undisputed. He is a tough partisan 
with a command of Senate procedure and an ability to inspire loyalty 
that made him an effective whip, the No. 2 leadership position to which 
he was elected to in 1998. His ascension means that the administration's 
proposal to put a nuclear dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, which Mr. 
Reid has successfully stymied, is even more remote.

Despite the charged political atmosphere, Mr. Reid has enjoyed warm 
relations with Republicans in Washington and back home in Nevada: in 
particular, with the man who was his Republican counterpart, Senator 
Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"I am a big fan of his," said Senator McConnell. Which is not to say, 
Mr. McConnell hastened to add, that he viewed the new Democratic leader 
as "a patsy."

"He can be as strong as a new rope when he needs to be," Mr. McConnell said.

And few people in Washington can, like Mr. Reid, claim as friends and 
financial supporters the former head of the Republican National 
Committee, Frank J. Fahrenkopf Jr., and the former president of Naral 
Pro-Choice America, Kate Michelman.

Mr. Fahrenkopf, a friend of 30 years from Las Vegas, described Mr. Reid 
as someone whose style allows him to negotiate difficult political terrain.

"You've got to remember that he is a Mormon," Mr. Fahrenkopf said. "So 
he's got some views that would be perceived as conservative by some of 
his more liberal colleagues. He's pro-life.

"But the question is, will he be faithful in putting forth the views of 
his caucus - because that's his job," he said. "The job he's done as 
whip, he has made very clear that he is good at putting forward the 
views of his caucus."

That said, in his new role, Mr. Reid is very likely to come under 
pressure to be less accommodating than he has in the past by a 
Democratic Party worried about what the next four years might bring. 
Allies and admirers say Mr. Reid's tenacity might come as a surprise to 
President Bush.

"I think that George Bush and the Senate Republicans are in for a big 
surprise," said Jenny Backus, a Democratic consultant who used to work 
for Mr. Reid. "Harry Reid is one of the toughest people that you'll ever 
meet and he's also one of the most determined people I've ever met."

He will join Representative Nancy Pelosi of California, the House 
minority leader, as the two leading Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Mr. Reid's emergence has come at a time of great unease in the party. 
Typically, in the first three years after a presidential election, the 
leader of the national Democratic Party becomes the face of the party, 
until the presidential field is set. But Mr. McAuliffe's term as 
chairman is about to expire and there is no consensus candidate to 
replace him, leaving an open stage for Mr. Reid.

Mr. Reid won a fourth term with 61 percent of the vote, after eking out 
a victory by 428 votes in 1998. Mr. Reid drew nearly 100,000 more votes 
than his Democratic friend at the top of the ticket, Mr. Kerry, who lost 
Nevada to Mr. Bush, 50 percent to 48 percent.

Mr. Reid was born in the tiny and remote mining town of Searchlight, 
Nev., a community he wrote a book about and later read long passages 
from in a minifilibuster on the Senate floor last year. His father was a 
miner who committed suicide.

His interest in politics came from Mike O'Callaghan, his high school 
history teacher and boxing coach, in Henderson, 40 miles from 
Searchlight. Mr. Reid hitchhiked to Henderson on Monday, spent the week 
there with relatives while attending school, then hitchhiked back home 
on the weekends.

Mr. O'Callaghan went on to become governor of Nevada - and he appointed 
Mr. Reid as head the Nevada Gaming Commission in 1979, at the very 
moment that the state was trying to reduce the influence of organized 
crime. Mr. Reid himself became a target of attempted attacks by 
organized crime.

Mr. Reid has come under some criticism in the past for the lobbying by 
relatives who worked for a top Nevada law firm, and he has since 
instituted a ban on lobbying of him or his staff by family members. Mr. 
Reid's son has since left the firm in question and returned to Nevada.

To a large extent, Mr. Reid's precise role in leading the party over the 
next few years remains to be worked out.

"As far as the standard-bearer of the party is concerned, I think that's 
yet to be determined," Ms. Michelman said. "He will also be a strong 
voice, and will be a leader. But others will emerge."

Mr. Biden said Mr. Reid "may be the perfect guy for this moment."

"He'll make the trains run on time," he said. "That's his forte."

Marxism list: www.marxmail.org

More information about the Marxism mailing list