Harry Reid is the Mormon of the Year

[Cross-posted to In Medias Res]

It’s a tad late for these kind of year-end awards, but it’s worth noting that Senator Harry Reid has been chosen by my former blog-residence Times and Seasons as the Mormon of the Year. This was absolutely the right decision on their part–and as T&S is choosing not to open comments on the post, let me explain why right here.

If you care about or follow the business of the Bloggernacle at all, you’re probably already thinking that you don’t need my explanation: I’ve already described Reid as a “Mormon hero”, after all. But that praise had a very specific referent: the legislative act he accomplished–uniting 58 Democrats and 2 independents behind a heath care reform bill that they all agreed with in principle but which contained enough controversial particulars for each and every one of them to have a reason to vote against it–was a remarkable, even heroic accomplishment. (Whether the bill, or the law which will eventually result from it, is remarkable, much less heroic, is a different question, about which I have significant doubts.) More importantly, T&S itself didn’t choose Reid on the basis of his having accomplished anything remarkable or heroic (though no doubt many who read about their award will think that is the case); on the contrary, it chose Reid for one very simple reason: he made news.

Every year people whine about these year-end awards, and reasonably so: people look at Time Magazine’s awards (Ben Bernanke, with Stanley McChrystal, Chinese labor, Nancy Pelosi and Usain Bolt as runners-up), and they see in that an endorsement of a particular approach to the American economy which they either love/hate, or perspective on the war in Afghanistan, or an embrace of globalization, or a comment on reforms in the House of Representatives, or silly affection for the 100-meter dash. Why not whine? It’s all subjective, after all. But in the midst of all those subjective judgments, some invariably stand out, if only because more people, more money, more events, more possibilities are involved. Bernanke was at the heart, for better or worse, of changes in the American economy over the past year. Harry Reid, similarly, has been at the heart of the single largest act of social welfare legislation in more than 40 years. And, of course, he’s Mormon.

Whatever else Big Love-inspired jokes may convince you, Mormons are, statistically, a terribly insignificant minority in the United States; depending on what methodology you prefer, the number of people in America who publicly self-identify as members of the Mormon church ranges from anywhere from 3.1 to 5.7 million people–or, in other words anywhere from a little over 1% to a little under 2% of the American population. Common we are not. The Senate, of course, is hardly a equally representative institution, but discounting such Mormon-rich states as Utah, Idaho, or Arizona, that still makes it surprising that a Mormon–and not just any Mormon, but a Mormon Democrat, which is an even more vanishingly small minority–could rise to the top of the Senate majority…and then lead it through perhaps the most contentious and fraught legislative season in years.

He is, in short, big news: news because of what he’s done, and news because of who he is–a practicing and self-identifying member of a very small church which a political reputation that would seem a much more likely fit with implacable health care reform opponents like Senators Orrin Hatch or Bob Bennett, rather than a desperate and often rhetorically clumsy legislative operator who sees health reform as his crowning achievement. Last year T&S chose Mitt Romney, which was also appropriate: despite having washed out of the Republican presidential nomination campaign by early March, there was no other member of the church who made as much significant news as he did in 2009. This year, by contrast, no other member of the church–no, not even everyone’s favorite new media star/savant/nutcase, Glenn Beck, whose Mormonism is a source of delight to hundreds of thousands of my co-religionists, and a source of embarrassment to a few like me–has had a larger and more meaningful role in American public life than Harry Reid. As he looks forward to what will probably be a very difficult re-election battle (something which a lot of Democrats will likely be facing this November), he should take solace in every award he gets.

Comments

  1. StillConfused says:

    His comments about Obama certainly will keep the Church and its past relationship with “Negros” in the news.

  2. Harry is big in the news right now. For insensitive racial comments. Not exactly representing us very well right now.

  3. Reid’s comment, and the reaction to it, is really a kind of interesting study in how “offense” operates, and just how “meta” we have become in answering the question of whether something is offensive or not. I’ve yet to read of a single person who either 1) confesses to have been offended that Reid referred to something called “a Nergo dialect,” or 2) substantively disagrees with his basic point, which is that if Senator Obama fortunes would have probably been much different if he’d looked and sounded less like Harry Belafonte and more like Mr. T. And yet the offensive scandal circus is off and running, regardless. Kind of fascinating, really.

  4. Steve Evans says:

    I was hoping we’d get T&S’ sloppy seconds on this one. Let me just say that their “award” read more like CYA disclaimer than any sort of award I’ve ever seen. Proceed, all.

  5. Last Lemming says:

    implacable health care reform opponents like Senators Orrin Hatch or Bob Bennett

    To be fair to Bob Bennett, the health reform bill he cosponsored with Ron Wyden (D-OR) is far superior to the bills passed by either chamber, and to alternatives proposed by Republican leaders. (He can, however, be characterized fairly as implacably opposed to the House and Senate bills as they stand).

  6. I nominate Steve Evans for 2010 MOTY.

  7. Let me just say that their “award” read more like CYA disclaimer than any sort of award I’ve ever seen.

    Steve, it was no doubt a highly negotiated collective statement. I felt it worth putting a more direct and personal endorsement here.

  8. Steve Evans says:

    I accept the nomination!

  9. Comments on T&S are now open. Leaving them close was a misunderstanding.

    As for the wording of the statement, mea culpa. I’m falling on my sword as we speak.

    Steve, please suggest alternate wording. I’d love to read your take on it.

  10. Antonio Parr says:

    Wasn’t Steve recently featured in an LDS-related article? He may be on the way to greater fame than any of us realize.

  11. Nicely put, Russell!

  12. Steve Evans says:

    Kent, it’s not complicated! You could start by deleting the last six paragraphs of your post.

  13. Antonio,
    Steve is regularly in news–perhaps you’re checking the wrong section?

    (Hint: Steve doesn’t love the BYU Police Beat for nuthin’)

  14. Other than using “Negro” what was Harry’s sin? To suggest that American voters, mostly white, would be more inclined to vote for a lighter, rather than a darker, skinned candidate? Or that those same voters would be more likely to vote for someone who sounded more like them, rather than, say, Charles Barkley? If there are people who should be upset, it’s all those right-thinking Americans who have been branded racists by Harry.

    Of course, maybe the brand fits.

  15. StillConfused says:

    I like Charles Barkley.

    Actually, wouldn’t it be kind of interesting to have a professional athlete as the president?

  16. There have been some professional athletes turned politicians:

    Ggovernor–Jesse Ventura
    Senators–Bill Bradley, Jim Bunning
    Congressmen–Steve Largent, J.C. Watts, Heath Shuler
    Mayor–Kevin Johnson

    Other than Jesse Ventura, I don’t think they’ve been any more interesting than crooks, like Rod Blagojevich, turned politicians.

  17. Barkley has talked in the past about running for governor of Alabama, actually. Stepping stone?

  18. Mark B. (16):
    Perhaps you should add Gerald Ford and Jack Kemp — because college football is very close to being a professional!!

  19. Reid’s recent comments remind me a lot of a ’70s-era Saturday Night Live skit (Eddie Murray, IIRC), involving two black men, a darker-skinned host and a lighter-skinned interviewee, on a talk show discussing race issues.

    The host asks the interviewee, “So why is it that whites think that they are better than blacks?”

    The interviewee then responds, “I think it is because light-skinned blacks are better than dark-skinned blacks.”

    The more our perceptions change, the more they stay the same.

  20. Natalie K. says:

    Just to clarify, Reid’s controversial statements aren’t “recent”. They were made during the presidential campaign in a private setting, and are only now being brought up.

  21. @18 – Jack Kemp played professional football.

  22. If Reid gets crucified for his clumsy statement, then surely Mitt Romney’s political future is doomed as well because of this:

  23. Matt Rasmussen says:

    Taking political views out of the equation, the fact that the Mormon of the Year is not well known as being a “Mormon” demonstrates that we’re not doing enough to be a light unto the world.

  24. Matt,

    Sorry, but I think you’re exactly wrong on this point. First, it’s no secret that Reid is a Mormon — it comes up in every profile of him.

    Second, the fact that his Mormonism is NOT necessarily the first thing that comes in discussions about Reid, I think, serves the Church well. As long as a person views Mormons as being curious and anomalous within the broader public sphere, it will be harder for him/her to imagine becoming one. Someone who is competent or excellent at his or her job, and also Mormon, sets a better example than a person who is known as “the Mormon.”

    Third, what exactly should Reid be doing to be more “well known as being a Mormon”? He spoke at a BYU forum in 2007 where he spoke extensively about his faith. He’s a faithful member of the Church–he’s even reported to be a stellar home teacher. He took the President of the Church to meet the President of the United States, for goodness sakes?

    I’m at a loss as to what more he could do — maybe collaborate with Janice Kapp Perry on some musical projects? Geez.

  25. @24 I’ve argued this point before. I run in very non-Mormon secular circles, with lots of reasonably well-informed professional liberal types (presumably who know about their party’s majority leader). During a recent New Year’s Eve party, I tested this theory that people know Reid is Mormon. No luck.

    I think the idea that it is generally well-known that Reid is Mormon is incorrect, which is why I continue to dispute and think it silly he’ll be viewed as a “Mormon hero” to more than just a small sub-set of people within the church itself.

  26. I get the point you are making, but I can’t in any way consider bribing other legislators heroic – no matter how good or bad the bill is. It is dishonest.

  27. I don’t think many people are actually offended by Reid’s comments. They really aren’t offensive, maybe a little archaic, but not offensive.

    What this clearly is, is Republicans hammering Reid over the head with a poor wording choice in the way that they feel – and they would be right – that one of their own would be hammered if they had said the exact same thing. They are going for their pound of flesh right now, and I don’t blame them.

  28. Jana H (24) wrote: “which is why I continue to dispute and think it silly he’ll be viewed as a “Mormon hero” to more than just a small sub-set of people within the church itself.”

    You do know that the “Mormon of the Year” isn’t hero worship, right? I think that was Russell’s point in the post above, and ours on T&S repeatedly.

    I’m not sure about you and your comment, but sometimes from other people’s comments I get the idea that they think in naming a “Mormon of the Year” that we are somehow fawning over the person!! That’s NOT the case!

  29. #4 Am I the only one here that knows the meaning of “sloppy seconds?” I’m not sure you want to use that phrase in this situation…..

  30. Evidently you’re the only one with a mind that filthy, Greg J. Congratulations!

  31. Last Lemming says:

    but I can’t in any way consider bribing other legislators heroic

    If you are accusing Reid of a crime (which bribery is), you need to present some evidence. Otherwise, you are being unnecessarily inflammatory. If Reid were rewriting the bill to advance the personal interests of members to the detriment of their constituents, then bribery would be an appropriate word. But rewriting the bill to advance the interests of key members’ constituents is just part of his job, however distasteful those of us who are not part of the favored constituencies may find it. There is nothing remotely illegal or unconstitutional about it. Next time, vote for a candidate who is not locked into a given position from the getgo. Then maybe you will fall into the favored constituency.

  32. The only ones calling Reid “Mormon of the Year” are self-absorbed liberal Mormons. Not hero worship? That might not be the intent, but it is the outcome. I said it then and I’ll say it again; the pick was pre-ordained by the staff. So far as “Mormon” is concerned, Stephanie Meyer has been far more recognized as a Mormon and more people (both those who care and those who don’t care about politics) have been influenced by her more for good or ill than anyone else this past year.

  33. StillConfused says:

    Is there something racist about the Who Let The Dogs Out comment?

  34. Last Lemming is right. There appears to be gross ignorance about what it is that legilatures do and why they do it. This may be the result of our heavy focus on the presidency. However, the legislative process and the Congressional Institutions are the core of the Constitution.

  35. Self-absorbed? Well, Jettboy would know.

  36. Steve Evans says:

    Jettboy might be right — not the self-absorbed part, obviously, nor the pre-ordained bit, but that Stephenie Meyer might be a more deserving candidate for MOTY. But that speaks more as to the world’s penchant for pop culture and its ignorance of politics than anything else.

  37. Steve, are you saying you don’t believe in pre-ordination?

  38. Steve Evans says:

    Like all members of the Church, I believe in post-ordination, which is the process by which one gets a new calling and actually performs it for months until the bishopric gets around to setting you apart.

  39. I thought post-ordination is the lunch-style meal that is held at the home of newly ordained deacons, typically involving french dip sandwiches. No?

  40. Last Lemming,

    Please. It was a legal bribe, it happens a lot in politics (but not usually so brazenly.) You ask for evidence? This isn’t a court of law. Let’s not play this game where we pretend like we don’t know what happened there.

    I’m also unclear on how you are defining a bribe. So if Harry Reid offered the constituents in question something that is NOT in their interest in exchange for the vote – that is bribery? Never heard of that.

    Chris Henrichsen,

    I’m all too aware of what legislators do and why they do it, that is why I’m very hesitant to place their actions in the heroic category.

  41. John K,
    Please. Legal bribes don’t exist. What Reid did is about as bribe-y as paying for an oil change. Don’t mistake what you don’t like for illegality. That way lies madness.

  42. StillConfused says:

    I just had to google Stephanie Meyer. I don’t know that I would have voted for her either.

  43. FWIW, Stephenie (note the spelling) Meyer was considered both years, and, I suspect, will be considered in the future for several years.

    JetBoy (32), you may very well be right that Meyer has had as much or more impact. As a group we at T&S didn’t see it that way.

    StillConfused (42), are you saying that you don’t think she has had as big an impact as someone else? Who?

    If its because you don’t like what she has done, then please re-read the qualifications. Whether the person has done good things or bad things isn’t the issue.

  44. John C.,

    Again, you seem to think I’m accusing him of doing something illegal as opposed to something slimy.

  45. John K,

    It that is the case, stop referring to his actions a bribery (an illegal thing). Legislative give and take is not slimey. It is the very heart of republican government. Don’t blame Reid. Blame Madison.

  46. “If that is the case, stop referring to his actions as bribery.” I am better at government than I am writing.

  47. “Bribery, a form of pecuniary corruption, is an act implying money or gift given that alters the behavior of the recipient.”

    That is what we all saw, you can be okay with it, goodness knows it happens a lot – but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. My original point, again, was not to accuse him of a crime (or even disagree that he is Mormon of the year) but to quibble with the idea that his actions in reference to the bill were heroic.

    First of all, the bill was so different than the House bill that this may all be for nothing. Secondly, he united 58 Deomocrats and 2 Independents (one of which is a Democrat and the other one is left of being a Democrat.) This is hardly a moment to put in the pantheon.

    And about the slimy comment. To me if the system you are stumping for is not acceptable to several legislators on principle – it is slimy to throw cash and prizes at them as opposed to fixing the actual issues. If he were to fix the actual objections that they had and then pass the bill, I would not support the bill, but I would understand calling his effort heroic.

    I am not saying his methods are unique, I am saying what would be truely heroic is if they were. Instead he does things the way everyone else does.

  48. Glenn Smith says:

    I sorry I missed the vote – mine would have been ABH – anybody but Harry.

  49. “Secondly, he united 58 Deomocrats and 2 Independents (one of which is a Democrat and the other one is left of being a Democrat.) This is hardly a moment to put in the pantheon.”

    Holding together a 60 person coalition ranging from Bernie Sanders and Barbara Boxer to Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman is quite a feet. Again, you do not understand the workings of Congress and likely cannot appreciate such details.

    “I am not saying his methods are unique, I am saying what would be truely heroic is if they were. Instead he does things the way everyone else does.”

    So, who was the last Senate Majority leader to usher through a major health reform bill? Oh, wait, there never has been one.

  50. BTW, the methods are not unique, because the institution is bogged down in 200 plus years of tradition. I am all for scrapping the current Constitution and starting over with one that will meet the needs of contemporary society. Until then, we are stuck with the institutions that we have.

  51. You do realize you need a 60 people to end the debate for every bill that has cloture invoked on it, right?

    And being that my current Senator is Bernie Sanders and my former Senator was Boxer, I can tell you they would have voted for any kind of garbage with the words ‘health care reform’ involved when it came right down to it. All it took was giving additional goodies to the more moderate of the group – and this happens with virtually every bill. Doing business as usual does not meet my criteria for heroism. If it meets yours that’s cool. I find your condescension funny, I’ve worked on campaigns including one for a Senate candidate. I’m not saying I’m an expert by any stretch, but I’m not some angry novice sent here by Glenn Beck.

  52. I have lectured on the filibuster quite a bit. A very interesting, though equally unfortunate, aspect of the US Senate.

    Senator Sanders is likely the member of Congress that I most agree with. Neither he nor I would have chosen the path the Congress has fallen. However, instead of whining about “slimey” methods and “bribery” we recognize the system is what it is.

    I never said you were angry.

  53. followed….not fallen

  54. Fair enough. I’ll I’m saying is doing something because others have does not make you some kind of lion. It doesn’t mean you aren’t influential (he certainly is) or the Mormon of the year (he is.)

    By the way, I’m not a huge ‘personal responsibility’ zealot in general, but I have noticed the issue of blaming the system has really hurt us in the last decade or two. Everything is the system’s fault. The Nigerian bomber situation was a “systemic failure.” Nobody ever has to stand up and face the heat when the system can be blamed.

    Yes there are systems in place, but someone created them, someone oversees them and some people have the power to change them – and that goes for not just the lawmakers, but all the way down to the apathetic citizens.

  55. *all not I’ll

  56. I have lectured on the filibuster quite a bit.

    Rad. Filibustering to teach about filibusters.

  57. John K,
    But you and I are not senators and we weren’t tasked with steering a bill through Congress. Reid was. I admit that it wasn’t saving a baby from a burning building, but he is a congressman, not a firefighter. Also, Reid is prominent in the news, whereas most firefighters, for better or for worse, aren’t. Your complaints are better applied to America in general and its manner of putting some people in the spotlight and not others. That said, Reid’s actions were important and will have lingering affects (for good or ill) for years to come. By criteria of impact, importance, and fame, Reid is deserving of the title. I fail to see why you are continuing to argue otherwise.

  58. #30 Thank you? :)

  59. I haven’t argued that he shouldn’t have the title (although I think anyone that wins dancing with the stars should be an automatic :) ) I haven’t even argued that the bill is a bad thing (although I do think it is.) I guess I was just fighting over the language of the blog enrty.

    I just didn’t think scratching someone’s back for their vote was particularly gallant. Everything else you say I agree with, so I will leave it at that.

  60. I think Harry Reid is the most despicable member of the US Senate. Aside from his repeatedly stupid remarks about “Negros”, and stinky tourists in the capital, he supports two policies, gay marriage and abortion, that are not in any way in line with LDS principles. So how can he qualify for Mormon of the year. This is clearly a dumb, meaningless award, destined to get the church more negative publicity.

  61. So, Paul, how did you learn to write even though it’s obvious that you cannot read?

  62. I’m not in favor much of Harry Reid’s politics, but I’m glad he exists and is working hard. I want it to be known that Mormon’s have differing political views. I think that’s healthy not only within the church, but outside of the church.

    I’d rather have people like or hate Harry Reid based on his politics than constantly emphasizing his religion…it’s makes him a normal person not a … mormon AND something-like Mitt Romney seems to be. Somehow Harry Reid has managed to have a life and not have his religion brought up every third press conference and I think that’s good.

    I’d also rather have a politican chosen than a writer of stalking sparkly vampires-perhaps there is another award for that. She certainly has done something amazing.

  63. Paul (60), perhaps you should read this:

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2010/01/welcome-angry-people/

    Or, perhaps the Church’s statement about your approach:

    http://newsroom.lds.org/ldsnewsroom/eng/commentary/the-mormon-ethic-of-civility

  64. Well at least he didn’t use the phrase “white and delightsome” in the course of his rant. LOL

    -Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Storm

  65. Boy, just when you thought it was safe to return, some high school kid shows up and uses an adjective like “Anti-Christ-esque”.

  66. http://tpmdc.talkingpointsmemo.com/2010/01/reid-it-was-a-waste-of-time-dealing-with-olympia-snowe.php

    This is why I didn’t vote for Harry Reid as Mormon of the Year.

  67. SLO Sapo, I am entitled a little flare for drama, thank you very much. Me and my “high school” vernacular will match wits with you anytime, anyplace you moron.

  68. Steve Evans says:

    Good-bye, Jared K. I think we’ll keep you in moderation for a while.

  69. Why on earth would you want to match wits with any of the morons around here? Wouldn’t that be a step down for you?

  70. Hey Kent, why don’t you send the civility article to Harry Reid too. He needs it worse than me. I agree with # 69 on this one. Out.

  71. @70

    Is it fair to judge somebody’s overall intelligence by noting his inability to recognize irony?

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