There are moments in politics that simply cause you to stop in utter confusion.
America had one of those moments during the 2012 campaign when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid accused Mitt Romney of not paying any taxes for the previous 10 years.
Of course, this is an enormous charge that — if true — would bring up all kinds of questions about his character and his suitability for office.
Turns out, it was completely a lie. What was Reid’s evidence?
When asked, he responded in a way that some kid on the playground might respond when caught in a lie.
Someone told him.
(It was probably Jon Huntsman, though he denies it.)
You get the picture.
The accusation was a lie, based on nothing but a whisper. Reid could’ve found out the truth before he publicly accused Romney, but he didn’t.
How does he feel now about this incident? Chris Cillizza documents it well:
Without seeing Romney’s taxes, we cannot definitively prove Reid incorrect. But tax experts say his claim is highly improbable. Reid also has made no effort to explain why his unnamed source would be credible. So, in the absence of more information, it appears he has no basis to make his incendiary claim.
Moreover, Reid holds a position of great authority in the U.S. Congress. He should hold himself to a high standard of accuracy when making claims about political opponents.
But when CNN’s Dana Bash asked Reid whether he regretted this accusation, he responded in quite honestly an infuriating way:
“Romney didn’t win, did he?”
Here is the video:
Let it sink in.
As Cillizza writes:
What Reid is saying is that it’s entirely immaterial whether what he said about Romney and his taxes was true. All that mattered was that Romney didn’t win.
Where to begin?
How about with the fact that this all-means-justify-the-ends logic — assuming the end is your desired one — is absolutely toxic for politics and, more importantly, democracy… If you can lie — or, at a minimum, mislead based on scant information or rumor — then anything is justified in pursuit of winning. This sort of “the winners make the rules” approach is part of the broader partisan problem facing Washington and the polarization afflicting the nation more broadly. There is no trust between the two parties because they believe — and have some real justification for believing — that the other side will say and do literally anything to win.
Think about Reid’s statement in another context. I have two little kids. What if I told my son, who has just started playing soccer, that his only aim was to win the game — no matter how he accomplished that goal. After all, it’s not cheating unless someone can prove it, right?
Would anyone think that was either (a) good parenting or (b) broadly beneficial for society? No.
Of course. It’s politics. But this is also America. Perhaps I take this more personally since my husband David and I worked on the Romney effort since 2005. Plus, this was not a tweet or a rumor that he started around DC. Instead he lied from the Senate floor.
Thank you, Harry Reid, for giving us the perfect example of why those of us who hate politics but love America find it hard to take our elected officials — or even campaigns — seriously.