May 13, 2005

He’s Gone Berserk

At the risk of piling on, it appears that Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, in the latest of a series of strained attempts to justify a judicial-filibuster strategy that annihilates Senate traditions, has utterly destroyed the civility that once prevailed in the World’s Greatest Deliberative Body.

Reid took the floor to decry Republican attempts to restore the old traditions of voting yes-or-no on a president’s judicial nominees. About two-thirds of the way through a 30-minute talk, he added the following ad-libbed passage: “Henry Saad would have been filibustered, anyway. He’s one of those nominees. All you need to do is have a member go upstairs and look at his confidential report from the FBI, and think we all would agree there is a problem there.”

Let us count the sins: (1) It is verboten for Senators to jibber about FBI files. (2) Harry Reid does not, under Senate rules, have the right to see those files. He is neither a member of the Judiciary Committee nor a representative of Saad’s home state of Michigan. If he actually has read the Saad file, he could face an Ethics Committee inquiry. (3) FBI files are like great dumpsters for gossip, and they are filled with notoriously unreliable drivel. They contain everything anybody has told any FBI agent about the person in question. There is no attempt to separate truth from falsehood, or to discount rumors passed by people with ulterior motives. (4) Reid’s smear is literally unanswerable. Saad himself has not seen the file. Neither he nor his closest associates have any idea what Reid is talking about. And, having already undergone three rounds of FBI scrutiny for other jobs, he has never been confronted before with such detail-free innuendo.

Reid’s screed has drawn Senate Republicans closer together, and ought to set off panic among younger Democrats, who see their party degenerating into a congeries of rage-besotted screamers — the kind of people one often finds in the shaded crannies outside the local bus or train station. The only difference is, Harry Reid doesn’t have to drop a hat on the ground to get your money: He gets it without having to ask.

If you’re an Evan Bayh or a Tim Johnson, you have to be wondering what has happened to a party that once set a standard for decency and principle. How is it that George Soros became the pillar of the party? And how did it come to pass that an organization that once attracted the best and brightest now bestows its laurels upon malcontents and refugees from the political fringes — folks who refuse to debate the professional merits of a Henry Saad, and instead try to win the day through whisper campaigns?

One hopes the minority leader, whom I many times have described as a nice guy, will master the art of apology. This sleazy smear, twinned with his puerile dismissal of the president as a “loser,” makes Reid himself look like a charmless punk. He knows better and can do better. If he doesn’t show a little contrition he will have managed to do something neither the president nor Bill Frist has so far managed; he will have secured enough votes for a measure that would ban judicial filibusters forever and leave many members of the Democratic caucus literally speechless.

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