Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
For a dead guy, Harry Reid looked quite hale Tuesday.
A year ago, six months ago, maybe three months ago, I could have made a lot of money betting Reid, entombed by a Schumerizing D.C. elite and a horde of frothing Republicans, would return for a fifth term. But return he has, having vanquished the Tea Party’s national darling with the greatest campaign in state history and one of the greatest in U.S. Senate annals.
And when he came into the studio to tape “Face to Face,” Reid was almost unrecognizable from the haggard, exhausted man of November who had to campaign as hard as he ever has in his nearly five decades in public life to defeat Sharron Angle. He looked rested, relieved and ready.
But he was still, unmistakably, unpredictably, Harry Reid. To wit:
• Only Harry Reid, when asked about whether he still thought the lame-duck tax cut deal was a good one, would begin his serpentine answer thusly:
“I am going to go back to Washington and meet with the president of China. He is a dictator. He can do a lot of things through the form of government they have. Maybe I shouldn’t have said dictator. But they have a different type of government then we have and that is an understatement.”
First, you might wonder what Hu Jintao has to do with the question I asked. (Reid would later make clear he was comparing China with America, where compromise is essential in “the best system ever devised to rule the affairs of men and women.”)
Second, how Reid-like is it to call the Chinese president a dictator as he is arriving in this country for sensitive talks with President Barack Obama? An awkward state dinner?
• Only Harry Reid, when I asked him about his 2006 vote against raising the debt ceiling (and Obama did so, too, as a senator), would give this kind of candid answer:
“You had a Republican president, he had to get the debt raised, so that we had Democrats out there trying to play games.”
Me: “You said it was political back then, you are acknowledging that?”
Reid: “Yeah it was, (raises right hand) I am guilty, OK … I am very embarrassed in fact that that was the thing I did at that time because it is the wrong thing to do. I have always voted to increase the debt limit when necessary. This is something that I wish I hadn’t been involved in because I would have had a 100 percent record of increasing the debt.”
• Only Harry Reid could present the kind of straight-faced claims that will drive his critics and foes into apoplexy:
On renewable energy: Nevada will be energy independent in “three or four years.”
On presenting a list of spending cuts: “We have to do that. Not only on domestic discretionary spending that we have to do something about. We have to do something about as Secretary (Robert) Gates said about the defense budget. We have to do something about long term debt as it relates to Medicare, Medicaid and programs like that.”
On immigration reform: Reid said “the tide is turning,” partly because Republicans were crushed by Hispanic voters last year. “I think you are going to be surprised. I think you are going to find significant support from the press around the country. We have an interesting mix. We have organized labor and the Chamber of Commerce want something done and I think that this is the time to get something done.”
(Then again, this is the same guy who said 100,000 people would turn out for that 2008 presidential caucus and consistently said in 2010 he was comfortable with his poll numbers.)
• Only Harry Reid, when I asked him about gun control in the wake of the Tucson rampage, would hearken back to the year the New York Jets last were in the Super Bowl:
“As a brand new freshmen legislator in 1969 I went to the state Legislature … There should be a waiting period for the purchase of a handgun to stop someone who has mental problems from buying a gun. We can check instantly, it is so easy to do.”
But what about new federal gun laws? Reid can still dance, but insisted, “I do not want to take anyone’s gun away from them, but I think there are things that we can do. I think the waiting period is important. I did that in 1969 and I never looked back on that.”
As the program ended, I sneaked in a final question to get a quick answer: Would this be Reid’s final term?
“I’m just getting warmed up,” he smiled.
Not bad for a dead guy.