“He’s not a dictator. He’s a President. And he has the same power that I do. He individually may have more power. But his branch of government has no more power than mine.” Harry Reid on George W. Bush in 2005 (Minority Retort, The New Yorker)
As a Woman of Color, it took me a long time to appreciate the person and the politician that Senator Harry Reid was. He represented everything I found dangerous in White Men that people of my gender identity and skin tone are still today supposed to regard as allies. A deeply conservative man with conservative views on “family values” who held language denoting gender-normative roles, yet still, one of the very few in U.S. Congress who early on recognized the real and present dangers of Climate Change and fought to preserve the environment. He was quiet and even gauche in front of the camera lenses but behind closed doors mercilessly bullied and toed the line on discrimination and prejudice. He was an antagonist, and yet, an active partner who had the courage to evolve with the times, pushing for the diversity that made the Democratic Party coalition what it is today. He was from a time where White Men set the tone unchallenged; he perceived as personal attacks revelations on his own sons’ patterns in abusing their father’s political standing, and using him as just cause to affect their own personal agenda and gain more significant power. If I were to describe him today, I would say that by contemporary political ideologies, Harry Reid was more of the Populist brand of politician, who fought for change while still holding on to deeply entrenched conservative ideologies; he dismissed Abortion Rights while fighting for labor unions; he was economically Progressive but shied from pushing for more when the safety net expanded enough to allow more Women and BIPOC a fighting chance to also equally profit from it. He fought for a state that would favor guaranteeing basic needs for deeply conservative white men like himself, but without the economic justice, liberty, and democracy for all.
And yet, in all honesty looking at the span of his life’s tireless work, I can admit that Harry Reid’s most significant and endearing facet was his courage to embrace Change. After witnessing the utter despair America was drowning in during the Conman Years, I can’t help but agree with Harry Reid’s strongly held belief in the importance that a President’s most significant power is to set the tone for his officials leading their respective government branches, because they will in turn set the tone for the rest of the Nation; that a United States President must not act as a dictator and an authoritarian, but one who held the exact power Congress allowed him. Reid harshly condemned politicians preening for the camera lens, purposely amplifying false information to their followers, as he found them irresponsible, dangerous, and antagonists to achieving real progress. To him, who was Senate Minority Leader at a very challenging time where Republicans held a significant majority in the country, words were completely meaningless without concrete action; Legislative Action. A key figure who fought to pass the Affordable Care Act, he never sneered at hard-earned incremental change as he understood they laid the ground to reaching bigger goals and achieving real Progress. Despite the limitations of his conservative views, he helped Communities of Color out-organize systemic disenfranchisement, and fought against entitled Privilege who believed that nothing is better than something. He made Progress happen and laid the ground for even better things to be within possible reach.
And that is how, upon learning of his own personal travelled road from gutter poverty to one of the most significant figures affecting meaningful change, that I came to appreciate a man like Harry Reid. May he rest in peace.
A very Happy, Healthy, and hopefully Safe New Year to all of you, Politicadoes!