I don’t know the person’s name, but I think I know who told Harry Reid that Mitt Romney didn’t pay taxes for 10 years. I think it was the same person who spread equally unsubstantiated rumors about President Obama’s birth certificate. And why not? It’s all the same baseless tale-bearing that degrades politics and breeds the mistrust which is making good governance increasingly impossible.
“An investor said”... An "anonymous caller" claimed... "I have it on good authority that"... "I am not certain that it’s true, but..." This is the stuff of the worst political cultures in the world – cultures which trade in fear instead of results, and picking at old wounds instead of healing them.
The fact that a sitting senator, and the Majority Leader no less, could engage in rumor mongering and innuendo at this level may be without parallel, at least since the era of Joe McCarthy. And as with then, this is behavior of which Sen. Reid, all those who support him, and even those who remain silent in the face of his egregious behavior, will come to be ashamed.
These are not stupid people, so what is it that animates them? What possible justification are they offering themselves? How do they rationalize such grossly irresponsible behavior on the part of an otherwise sane individual? What could so twist someone’s sense of their role, and warp their sense of responsible use of the position to which they have been elevated?
Certainly, the stakes are high and differences between the candidates are real, but the absolute refusal to either back up or walk back such outrageous claims can only be fueled by a sense that winning is not everything, as famed Coach Vince Lombardi once said, but the only thing. This may be an inspiring approach to football, but it's nothing less than an offensive approach to helping President Obama win a second term. Not to mention one which will make that second term even less likely to be constructive and productive.
Let’s assume for the moment that Sen. Reid’s rumor-mongering pays off – that he succeeds in raising enough popular suspicion in this closely contested race to help the president achieve victory. By the time that will have happened, the pollsters will have tracked that “positive” result for Democrats, and it will surely be used by Republicans as evidence of the impossibility of working with a president who refused to distance himself from either the rumor or the one who spread it. And not without some justification.
Whether Senator Reid is knowingly lying or simply guilty of using unsubstantiated innuendo to make his claims doesn’t actually matter. Either way he has dragged us all back to the McCarthy era in ways that will stain his reputation and harm those who refuse to learn from the past and distance themselves from Reid’s ugly tactics.
And ultimately, it is not simply Senator Reid and his supporters who will lose.
When either side believes that victory by any means is an acceptable way to campaign, as the current round of rumor mongering suggests they do, we all lose, regardless of who wins the election.
Unfortunately, Harry Reid and his defenders, both active and passive, seem to miss that reality, forget the ugly history which his behavior recalls, and confuse the mandate to lead a nation responsibly with simply playing a game of football.
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don't Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.