Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010 | 2 a.m.
If you are one of the most powerful men in America and you have portrayed your opponent as unfit for office, you cannot stand next to her and not tower over her. You cannot appear side by side with a person you have described as essentially straitjacket-ready and make people wonder who is less qualified to be in the U.S. Senate. You cannot allow a woman who has reduced your quarter-century in the Club of 100 to a caricature to continue to paint that portrait without a spirited rebuttal.
But on Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid let it happen, appearing more bloodless than Michael Dukakis ever did and seeming lost in his own rhetorical world — the Hyde amendment and pink football helmets? I’m surprised he didn’t talk about reconciliation and bill markups.
So by the immutable laws of expectations, and by his own apparent disgust with having to be there, Harry Reid lost the debate to Sharron Angle.
There has to be — or at least should be — some sense of proportionality. Although any political campaign, especially by the end, is reduced to a mind-numbing superficiality where only buzz words reverberate, the most salient question about the U.S. Senate race, for which that debate provided a microcosm, is this: Has Sharron Angle, who makes stuff up, changes her positions and revises history, gotten away with it? And, more to the point, and this is occurring all over the country: Can candidates who are historical deniers and demagogic inciters cause passion to overrule rationality?
I understand many, many people think Harry Reid has been in the U.S. Senate too long (the most benign feeling) or believe he has been corrupted by his time in Washington (the least benign view). But if you get beyond the notion that Angle looked reasonably credible Thursday — and she did — you cannot get away from some truly mind-boggling and frightening things she said, which she has been doing for months, if not years.
When asked whether insurance companies should operate unfettered, not being mandated to provide any specific coverage, Angle seemed astonished at the question (“Anything at all?) and declared: “I think … what we have here is a choice between the free market and Americanism.” What?
Angle also flatly averred “Obamacare is destroying our economy” even though most of its provisions have yet to have any effect, accused Reid of giving “Social Security to illegal aliens,” a claim in several of her ads that has been debunked by objective observers, and flatly denied several positions, including eradicating the Education Department, that she is clearly on record as having taken.
There were several other examples, too, in the hourlong debate. And she said it all with a straight, smiling face.
But all that aside — and it is hard to put it aside — days later, I remain flabbergasted that during a U.S. Senate debate, one candidate flatly accused the other of venality, without any facts, and the other hopeful responded like Wally Cox to this calumny.
Here’s what Angle said: “You came from Searchlight to the Senate with very little. Now you’re one of the richest men in the U.S. Senate. On behalf of Nevada taxpayers, I’d like to know, we’d like to know, how did you become so wealthy on a government payroll?”
And while we’re at it, Senator, when did you stop beating your wife?
Reid, who is hardly one of the richest men in the Senate, tepidly responded that this was a “low blow” and talked about being a successful lawyer (brilliant!) and a good investor (more brilliant!), instead of directly confronting Angle with the facts.
Reid was a millionaire when he arrived in Washington in 1983. As veteran journalist Dennis Myers pointed out, the senator reported a net worth of $1.1 million on his first House disclosure 27 years ago.
Angle either knows that or doesn’t care. And she was doing what she has done the entire campaign, with her “Second Amendment remedies” lunacy and her “domestic enemies” echo of a deluded radio host: Play to the worst fears and visceral beliefs of voters despondent about the economy, alienated from government and looking for someone to be a repository for their bilious unease.
You know what that is, folks: It’s dangerous. But, alas, these days I don’t think it’s that extreme.
I know most people have made up their minds. I know many people in this state are upset with the country’s direction and Reid has to be, perhaps should be, a lightning rod. I know some folks are mad as hell and don’t want to take it anymore.
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