Harry Reid RIP
Harry Reid died on Tuesday. He was 82. He was elected to the U.S. Senate from Nevada in 1986 and retired when his fifth term ended in early 2017.
Senator Reid was a “pull no punches” guy with boxing in his background. (Last intentional boxing reference.) He grew up dirt poor in the desert town of Searchlight, NV. 2000 census population: 576. Self-made, totally, and with a serious chip on his shoulder for those with advantages, like fellow Mormon Mitt Romney and Born on Third and Thinks He Invented Baseball Donald Trump.
Senator Reid was Barack Obama’s core. He told him he needed to run for president. When he ran and won, he got the Big Effing Deal – the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act – through the Senate. No one should ever minimize Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s chops, but it’s way, way, way harder to run the Senate than the House of Representatives.
I had a brief, personal encounter with Senator Reid in 2012. I was in Henderson, NV to speak to a conference about HIPAA as it relates to medical devices. I walked over to the Whole Foods near my hotel to get an energy bar and tea for the next morning’s breakfast. The checkers were ga-ga over the man who had just paid for his groceries. I confirmed that he was who I thought he was and walked outside to say hello. Friendly he was, and when I told him I was from Tucson he extolled the virtues of Dr. Richard Carmona, the former Surgeon General who was headed toward losing to Rep. Jeff Flake. Not so much me, but I was polite with the senator, and I cherish the moment.
(I have known one U.S. Senator, Claiborne Pell, for real. I interned for another, Dennis DeConcini. His son is a close friend, and I chat with Senator DeConcini – a neighbor – at family gatherings. My kitchen includes photos of George McGovern – the nicest big deal fellow when I interned, and my squeeze got the photo for me years ago – and Ted Kennedy with my daughter, when she met him at a University of Arizona Rogers College of Law lecture many years ago.)
Love him or hate him, Harry Reid exemplifies the American dream. Nothing was what he might have aspired to, given where he started. Nevertheless, he worked hard, used his intellect, and rose to a position one stop short of POTUS. He used power effectively, and he did so to further the freedoms we all talk about. (I know many people think he was the Anti-Christ. When I shared with my traveling party in Henderson who I met at Whole Foods, I expected to be exiting the dinner transportation prematurely.) He was a good man. Tough. Hard. But good.
Maybe it’s the passing, or the absinthe – since I gave up martinis, mostly, I do a bit of sipping before bed – but I think about Abraham Lincoln when Harry Reid crosses my mind. A total outsider, bumping up against the system. For sure, the comparison applies to others, including Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. But, uh, Bill Clinton has degrees from Georgetown, the Yale Law School, and was a Rhodes Scholar. Dirt poor too, but the system found him early. Ditto for Barrack Obama. And Trump? Oy!
Lincoln, on the other hand, came from less than nothing, and made himself who he was. A great lawyer, and a greater leader. Reid, too.
One more thing. Clark County renamed the Las Vegas Airport in 2021. Previously, it was McCarran Airport, named after Patrick Anthony McCarran, a U.S. Senator who represented Nevada from 1933 to 1954. Senator McCarran supported fascists and hated Jews. He did, though, support the powerful, always. Now, it’s Harry Reid International Airport. I am not a fan of renaming airports and other public spaces, generally. Still can’t say Reagan National, when I fly to D.C. That said, the Las Vegas renaming works.
Rest in Peace, Harry Reid. You fought the good fight, for all of us. Even those who likely cheer your passing.