By: Kay Ankley
On August 2, 2012 Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the Senate floor, not to debate tax reform, a jobs bill, or cyber-security legislation, but to make sure that all Americans are aware that presidential contender Mitt Romney has not paid taxes for the last decade. One has to wonder, is this really the job that Senator Reid, and all the other Senators who sat by listening, were elected to do? This latest spectacle of partisan bickering at the expense of the American people is beyond troubling for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that millions of Americans are suffering through one of the worst economies in recent history.
When did it become acceptable to accuse someone of a federal crime sans evidence and then demand that the accused “prove” his innocence? Senator Reid apparently felt comfortable stepping onto the Senate floor to lob such a charge even though he has steadfastly refused to reveal his source. Senator Reid has gone so far as to say that the burden is on Mr. Romney to “prove” his innocence. Huh? Oh yes, the bedrock principle that someone is “innocent until proven guilty” has no place in Washington only three months out from a presidential election. Just accuse at will, and hope that at least one accusation sticks long enough to make an impact on Election Day. Debating and posturing over candidates’ policy choices is one thing, but accusing someone of a federal crime with no intention to disclose any evidence, perhaps because there is none, is dangerous.
A similar event played out a few weeks ago when Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann named Huma Abedin, the deputy chief of staff for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as possibly connected to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Congresswoman Bachmann alleges has infiltrated parts of the U.S. government. The response from Congresswoman Bachmann’s Republican colleagues, including Speaker of the House John Boehner, was swift and decisive. They took her to task for the accusations, noting that they were entirely baseless and dangerous. Senator John McCain used the Senate floor to defend Ms. Abedin, noting that Congresswoman Bachmann’s accusations were “ugly” and “sinister,” and calling Ms. Abdedin a “fine and decent American.”
Surely, Republicans don’t hold a monopoly on decency, but the Democrat’s response to Senator Reid’s charge has been pathetic at best, and appalling at worst. Not one person in the Democratic Party has had the courage to come to Mr. Romney’s defense. In fact, many are running to Senator Reid’s side, eager to bolster his claims. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi led the charge, stating that “it is a fact” that someone told Senator Reid that Mr. Romney hasn’t paid his taxes. Regardless of one’s political persuasion, it is difficult to deny that the Democrat’s behavior in this instance is deplorable. We are a country of values, one of which is the sacred notion that any individual accused of a crime must be presumed innocent until proven otherwise. Senator Reid has turned this notion on its head, solely for political points. If there were any merit to these claims, Senator Reid would be all too eager to disclose the identity of the source. If true, this charge would effectively end Mr. Romney’s presidential bid, and President Obama would skate to re-election in November. Rest assured, such a political gift would not go unused . . . if it were true.
Also troubling, is that while Senator Reid was busy making unsubstantiated claims about Mr. Romney’s affinity for evading taxes, he wasn’t doing his job. The economy is in shambles, the Senate has not passed a budget in three years, and the latest jobs report showed an up tick in the unemployment rate. Senator Reid, and other congressional members, should be laser focused on implementing measures that will spur the economy back to life. Both parties, however, appear more interested in partisan bickering than in doing their jobs. The American people deserve more from their elected leaders. Senator Reid’s Senate floor attack on Mr. Romney’s character simply crystallizes the problem—politics takes precedent over solutions.
Lastly, by using the Senate floor to accuse a former U.S. governor of a felony without any evidence, Senator Reid has denigrated both his office and the Senate as an institution. Historically, the Senate floor is a place where our nation’s leaders convene for the purpose of improving public policy through debate, and then voting into law policies that will impact the lives of millions of Americans. The enormity of that responsibility, and the gravity of the decisions that flow from it, should be reflected in senators’ conduct, especially while acting in an official capacity. Congress’s approval rating is at an all time low of 17%. Perceptions matter. By focusing on Mr. Romney’s taxes, rather than the challenges facing the country, Senator Reid is sending the wrong message to the American people.
Senator Reid has stated numerous times that he is disappointed by Republican’s refusal to work with Democrats to “get things done.” As Senate Majority Leader, Mr. Reid should first and foremost lead by example in encouraging other members, both Republican and Democrat alike, to work together for the good of the country. When he is so willing to put politics first, why does he think the other members of his house won’t do the same?