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August 15, 2022

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jon ralston:

An unfortunate choice voters face

Harry Reid and Sharron Angle are dead, one in an occasional series:

This has been an extraordinarily bad week for the Senate majority leader — and not because he lost on “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the DREAM Act, legislative defeats that could be marginal political wins. If you place this week’s rhetorical gem about New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand on top of some of Reid’s previous verbal lunacy, it does not seem unreasonable for people, including those who support him, to ask if he is really all there.

People in Nevada and D.C. used to ridicule the late Sen. Chic Hecht for his malapropisms, with The Wall Street Journal calling him a “walking gaffe machine.” So what do you call a U.S. senator who describes the first African-American president as a light-skinned black who can control his “Negro dialect,” gushes about a U.S. senator being the “hottest” member of the Club of 100 and patronizes Hispanics registered as Republicans as tantamount to cretins?

A running gaffe machine?

All Hecht did was say silly things such as calling Yucca Mountain a “nuclear waste suppository” (maybe he was right) and mix up “overt” and “covert.” Those were goofy and humorous.

But Reid, who unlike Hecht actually has ascended to the pinnacle of American political power, seems physiologically incapable of controlling his utterances, as if he is afflicted with a political strain of Tourette’s syndrome. Seems to me that if any Republican senator had said virtually any of the things Reid has said, some of which are at least borderline racist and sexist, the Democrats and their interest group allies would be calling for him to be stripped of his leadership post and/or committee assignments.

Words matter, especially when disgorged by the Senate majority leader. He recently acknowledged that he should have chosen his words better on several occasions, especially his infamous “war is lost” characterization of Iraq. But isn’t careful consideration of what you say and reverence for your public role part of what being a leader is about?

I’m not suggesting always being on script is commendable. But how about at least reading the script when extemporizing isn’t exactly your forte? There is a certain carelessness about this part of Reid’s job that must be disconcerting even to his ardent backers — and undoubtedly to his campaign staffers.

Which brings me to the morning mantra that must be chanted every day in Team Reid headquarters: Thank God for Sharron Angle.

Considering the woeful economy, the unpopular Democratic agenda and the senator’s tongue, I will repeat what I have been saying since June 8: It’s quite possible the Republicans may have nominated the only person who could lose to Harry Reid this year.

Unlike Reid’s, Angle’s lips are not loose. They are instead locked into positions that no amount of massaging and spinning can obscure, positions that she seems to recite by rote with no real comprehension of the real-world implications. She can stay on script, all right. But many Republicans think they can see the end of this movie and it’s a train wreck climax.

I sometimes think the Reid folks have a vault labeled “Sharron Angle and the Extremes Greatest Hits,” which they disseminate whenever the time is right. Phase out Medicare and Social Security. Privatize the VA. Not my job to create jobs. The hits just keep on coming.

The Reid folks believe they unearthed another instant classic this week: Angle at a 2009 Tea Party in Winnemucca ridiculing a legislative mandate to cover autism. Team Reid played it as Angle mocking those with the condition, but that was — how shall I say this? — an extreme interpretation. Angle was deriding government’s expansive approval of mandates for illnesses and using autism as an example.

But the real issue with what Angle was saying is that she often mouths conservative shibboleths — mandates bad, privatization good — without any apparent sense of the consequences. There is a superficiality to her philosophy, with an undercurrent of religion always over reason, that indicates she is plagued by a different kind of carelessness than is Reid, but one that is perhaps more dangerous.

Call it, as the progressive blogger Desert Beacon did, “compassionless conservatism.” Or just call it a one-philosophy-fits-all approach to a complex world.

So is it better to re-elect the careless four-termer with juice who drives the Democrats’ agenda and is likely to say more intemperate things in the next six years? Or is it better to elect the careless woman who will likely be marginalized in the Club of 100 because of her strange statements but will reliably vote no unless God tells her otherwise?

That, alas, is what the Nevada Senate race has come down to.

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