When Harry Met Fallacies

Someday, the national media will understand Harry Reid. Come to think of it, all of us need to work on it.

Reid makes news in his duties as the Senate’s majority leader, but now he’s really making news—and, according to Republicans and some in the media, making things up. He told a Huffington Post interviewer that a source with ties to Mitt Romney from their days at Bain Capital told him the reason the GOP presidential candidate won’t release his tax returns: He didn’t pay anything.  Romney demanded that Reid “put up or shut up,” and even those in the supposedly liberal media questioned Reid’s honesty.

Let’s set aside that Romney could easily solve the problem by releasing the returns, which, if he’s telling the truth, would prove Reid wrong. For some reason he hasn’t done so, and speculation as to why has ranged from Reid’s source being correct to his having paid taxes but not having tithed properly to the Mormon Church, which also would be embarrassing, to say the least. Instead, let’s consider some ways to look at this from some well-known commentators:

• George Will, the conservative columnist and ABC News talking head, by way of Charles Pierce, an Esquire writer.  On Sunday morning, Will likened Reid’s actions to those of Sen. Joseph McCarthy, an alcoholic senator from Wisconsin who accused people of being communists and inspired Hank Greenspun of the Las Vegas Sun to publish an eight-part series asking, “Is Sen. McCarthy a Secret Communist?”  That would beg numerous questions about Will, not to mention that he so spoke in the same room as Ann Coulter, whom Pierce described as once having “a desiccated soul, replaced years ago by cheap Chablis and bong resin.”

More to the point, in Esquire, Pierce said, “Let’s stop being upset with Harry Reid already.”  He asked, “So why, exactly, would Harry Reid let up on the subject of the tax returns that Willard Romney apparently fed to his dancing horse?” He answered, almost in so many words, that it’s just politics, and the beltway media have become so far removed from the notion of reporting facts and so committed to the pursuit of rumor that they have no business questioning Reid or anyone else. And if you follow the link, you will
see how he supports his argument, which helps explain why his blog is a must-read, and his contempt for the media and so many politicians is so merited. (An excellent piece also appeared on The Daily Beast with a perfect title: “Harry Reid Is Vilified By a Press Corps That Tolerates Much Worse From the Right,” although those who continue to believe in the myth of the liberal media will ignore it.)

• Joe Conason, the editor-in-chief of The National Memo,
dryly notes that Reid is guilty of “aggressiveness unbecoming a Democrat,” points out that the very journalists assailing Reid for referring to “an extremely credible source” who remains anonymous rely on the very same kinds of sources daily.  Sometimes, they have left an unpleasant odor when they have done that, but if you ever heard of Watergate and Deep Throat, you know that they sometimes come out smelling like a rose.

• Russell Baker covered the Senate for The New York Times in the 1950s and early 1960s. For most of that period, he recalled in his autobiography The Good Times, Lyndon Johnson was at the center of everything that went on there and the last person to trust to tell you what LBJ was up to was … LBJ. So, he said, he would try to find a GOP senator, Styles Bridges of New Hampshire, who, he said, had a mind of “Florentine subtlety,” referring to Machiavelli. Baker said if he asked Bridges what LBJ was doing and Bridges said he didn’t know, it meant he probably knew—and that if he said he wasn’t sure, that meant he definitely knew.

Note that Bridges was a Republican—indeed, so far to the right that he nearly tipped over—and Baker worked for what many wrongly consider a narrowly defined liberal paper, and Baker himself is a liberal to his toenails. But they could talk. Furthermore, both of them understood the Senate: the action went on behind the scenes, where wheeling and dealing were the order of the day.

Thus the report by CNN’s Dana Bash on Aug. 7, that Republicans “understand that they’re taking Reid’s bait and that responding to his unsubstantiated claims against Romney keeps alive the issue of Romney’s refusing to release his tax returns. Still, these GOP sources say they feel that if they do not respond to such a serious charge from such a high-ranking Democrat, it will look like a tacit admission Reid is right.” So, they are blaming Obama adviser David Axelrod—without evidence. In fact, with less evidence than they claim Reid has.

Florentine subtlety. If you are majority leader and you don’t have it, you shouldn’t be majority leader. Reid has it. And many of those attacking him, whether they are right or wrong about Reid (and most claim he made it up, not that he’s citing an unnamed source), really should ponder that their resemblance to a pot overlooking how black the kettle is.