On Thursday, Sen. Harry Reid gave his farewell to the Senate, an hour and 20 minutes of vintage, unplugged Reid in which he talked about what has been essential to him in his long life of public service: his home in Nevada; the love of his life; his wife Landra (he quoted 19th-century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli here, leaving no dry eyes in the chamber—"The magic of first love is that it never ends," Reid quoted. "I believe that. She’s my first love. It will never end."); the institution of the Senate; and public service itself.
He spoke about his young, hardscrabble life growing up in Searchlight, Nevada, and recalled the most proud moment of his entire life, when he was in high school.
"There was no one to go to. I can remember my father having such a bad tooth ache, he—I watched him pull a tooth with a pair of pliers. My mother was hit in the face with a softball when she was a young woman in Searchlight, and it ruined her teeth. As I was growing up, I saw her teeth disappear. […]
I worked long hours in a service station. […] I worked really hard and long hours. I took all the hours they would give me. I saved up enough money, I had $250. I was going to buy my mother some teeth. And I went to a man, he was a bigshot. They named a school after him. He was on the school board in Las Vegas. He married this beautiful woman from Searchlight. I went to him. I never met him before. I told him who I am. His name was J.D. Smith. I said I wanted to buy my mother some teeth. He said I don't do credit here. He insulted me. So I went to Dr. Marshall of Henderson and bought my mother some teeth. It changed my mother's life. My mother had teeth.
He talked about his father's suicide.
"I can still remember seeing my dad on that bed, and I was so sad because my dad never had a chance. He was depressed always. He was reclusive. You know, I did things. He never came to anything that I did. I never felt bad that he didn't because I knew my dad. […] But I think everyone can understand a little bit of why I have been such an avid supporter of Obamacare, health care.
Reid didn't just have reminiscences, though. He had warnings. About money in politics, something he's railed against in his ongoing fight against the billionaire Koch brothers and their attempt to buy the government: "If this doesn’t change, and we don’t do something about this vast money coming into our elections, in a couple more election cycles, we’re going to be just like Russia. We’re going to have a plutocracy—a few rich guys telling our leader what to do."
And he had this warning:
We're entering a new gilded age. It has never been more important to be able to distinguish between what's real and what is fake. We have lawmakers pushing for tax cuts for billionaires and calling it populism. We have media outlets pushing conspiracy theories disguised as news. Separating real from fake has never been more important.
He quoted Pope Francis saying that the "media that focuses on scandals and spread fake news to smear politicians risk becoming like people who have a morbid fascination with excrement."
"That's what pope Francis said. He added that using communication for this rather than educating the public amounted to a sin. Well, he can categorize sin, I can't, but I agree with him on what he just said. I acknowledge the importance of the press. I admire what you do and understand the challenges ahead of you. But be vigilant because you have as much to do with our democracy as any branch of government. This is best understood by listening to what George Orwell had to say a long time ago, and I quote. "Freedom of the press, if it means anything at all, means the freedom to criticize and oppose." So press, criticize and oppose, please do that.
We’ll miss you, Senator Reid.