The Volokh Conspiracy

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Harry Reid the "unAmerican" and soon-to-be-former Senate majority leader: Good riddance


To say the least, I don't think highly of politicians as a class. But there are few politicians I think less of than Harry Reid.

For one thing, I've made a mental note of the seemingly racist comments Reid has made, starting in 2004, when he asserted that Justice Scalia is "one smart guy" whose reasoning is "hard to dispute" while claiming that Justice Thomas "has been an embarrassment to the Supreme Court. I think that his opinions are poorly written." (One can certainly argue about Thomas's ideology, temperament, and lack of respect for precedent, but his opinions emphatically are not "poorly written," and for some time he seems to have had at least as much influence on Scalia as vice versa).

For another, his recent vilification campaign against the Koch Brothers was, to turn his own words against him, "unAmerican." Beginning in early 2014, he launched almost daily (and often factually inaccurate) verbal assaults on the Kochs from the Senate floor, and also established a website,, dedicated to the Kochs' purported misdeeds. To get an idea of the tenor of the site, a page headlined "meet the Kochs" introduces them as "producers of toxic chemicals, harmful pollutants, carcinogens, greenhouse gases."

Among other insults, Reid called the brothers "unAmerican" and "power-hungry tycoons." UnAmerican? Really? Didn't that sort of thing go out with McCarthy? And, ironically, if we're talking "unAmerican," how about trying to squelch political speech you don't like? When Ted Cruz accurately accused Reid on the Senate floor of launching "an unprecedented slander campaign against two private citizens," Reid spokesman Alan Jentleson retorted that Cruz was "rushing to the defense of shadowy billionaires who are rigging our democracy to benefit the wealthy and powerful." [With apologies to VC readers whose heads explode every time Cruz gets a mention on this blog.]

I understand that the Kochs are significant donors to Republican causes and are therefore subject to Democrats' wrath, but they are also private citizens exercising rights the Supreme Court has decreed are protected the the First Amendment. Moreover, their campaign contributions, even after they were ramped up significantly in the face of attacks by Reid and other Democrats, are in fact small beans relative to total campaign spending in the U.S. Why go after the Kochs so vigorously, to the point where Reid mentioned them over 100 times on the Senate floor, and they received countless death threats? Especially since the attacks seemed to goad the Kochs into digging even deeper into their wallets to defeat Democrats? And even though the attacks didn't seem to resonate with the public at large? And despite the fact that Democrats spend about as much as Republicans each election cycle, and have their own billionaire patrons, like Tom Steyer and George Soros? As the Wall Street Journal's Kim Strassel points out, the Kochs themselves were largely irrelevant. Rather, Reid and his allies wanted to warn other potential Republican donors that they would face a public smearing if they also gave to GOP candidates. For someone as powerful as Reid to threaten private citizens in this way for pure political gain to my mind makes someone unfit to be a Senator, much less majority leader.

UPDATE: A commenter puts the matter of the persistent Reid attacks on the Kochs succinctly: "Slandering of private—and often rich—citizens by powerful public officials who disagree with them does happen: in Xi Jinping's China, in Putin's Russia, in Erdogan's Turkey. And in Harry Reid's Senate."