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Di Leo: On Death and Decorum, and the Late Harry Reid



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By John F. Di Leo - 

All human cultures have traditions around death.  In the western world, we have wakes and funerals, obituaries and tombstones, private or public burials.  Famous people get retrospectives on the evening news; prominent politicians may lie in state at a capitol rotunda.

It’s the printed word, however, that’s most interesting to me.  There’s a rule that governs all these retrospectives and obituaries: Never speak ill of the dead.

It’s a reasonable standard, clearly written with some eye – conscious or no – to the Golden Rule.  We hope nobody will speak ill of us when we die, so we don’t speak ill of anyone else when they do.  It’s a social contract.  Whatever the person’s sins or shortcomings, we figure, we can disregard them while their families and friends are grieving.  It’s the least we can do, for a civil society.

Well, on December 28, AD 2021, former U.S. Senator Harry Reid died at the age of 82.

Harry Reid, in his six years as Democrat Whip in the Senate, and especially in his dozen years as Democrat Leader, both in the minority and in the majority, was a thoroughly partisan, divisive, and negative figure.  As elected officeholders go, his tenure was completely malevolent, setting and waiving parliamentary rules at his whim, sacrificing bipartisan historical traditions for partisan political advantage again and again.

Watching puff pieces on the mainstream media, many of us took to social media to remind the public of his negatives.  The great economist and writer Stephen Moore wrote a piece here, just for balance, reminding our readers of some of Reid’s most shameful actions, to remind us that we owe much of today’s toxic politics to the poisonous career of Harry Reid.

As a result, many of us were lectured by our well-meaning friends:  we’re breaking the rules; this is the one time we must lay off.  We must pretend to like him, pretend to mourn him, for the sake of American cultural decency.

Well, please allow me to take the contrary position.

Yes, for non-political, generally beloved public figures – such as the late Betty White, who died the same week at 99, it certainly makes sense to join in cordial universal mourning.

But with major political figures – and as much as it pains me to write this, and you to read it, Harry Reid was a major political figure for many years – we truly do not have that luxury.

The death of a major public figure is the pop culture’s one big chance to control the narrative.    By selectively publishing positive-sounding aspects of his life, they can cover his entire career with a positive sheen, however undeserved.

First boxer to serve as a US Senator from Nevada… first Nevadan to serve as Majority Leader… first Senate leader to courageously challenge the hated filibuster…  If you word it artfully, almost everything he did can prompt a positive feeling in the viewer, reader, or listener.

Gentle Reader, I would submit, for your consideration, that this is the last time Harry Reid will make major news.  He will be largely forgotten, and deservedly so, in a few weeks, while the damage he did to our country and our world will last forever.

High school and college students will read about the man, be assigned book reports or essays on his career, for decades to come.  They, and those who read their work, will be affected by what they find in their research.  Don’t we owe it to them, at least, to make sure the negative side is shown?

The Left misses no opportunity to pounce when a conservative dies (surely we haven’t forgotten the twitterverse in the days following the great Rush H. Limbaugh III’s death from lung cancer, earlier in 2021).  In our instinctive reach for decorum, we allow the Left’s calumnies against Limbaugh and Heston, Reagan and Goldwater to stand.  This is hardly fair.

Future children, doing reports on the deaths of these noble patriots, will find obituaries and op/eds on all sides of their productive lives.  We do them no favors by only leaving them the Left’s puff pieces to read about corrupt, destructive forces like Reid.

Consider the Geneva Convention.  Remember that Geneva does not ban torture. By contrast, Geneva is an agreement in which nations commit to certain, honorable rules of warcraft.  Those who agree to abide by Geneva will be treated reciprocally; we don’t torture the POWs of countries that we can trust not to torture our own.  

For the Geneva Convention to make any sense at all – for it to be worth the paper it’s printed on – there must be a corollary: armies that do not agree to abide by Geneva receive no such benefits.   The key reason that terrorists like ISIS, Al Qaeda, Hamas, etc. are so willing to torture their victims is that they know that we westerners won’t reciprocate in kind.  A quick kill may not scare off a jihadist, but the fear of long, slow torture certainly would.

American politics suffer from many errors along these lines – the reverse hypocrisy, if you will, of allowing your own side to be taken advantage of, no matter how often.  The Democratic Party wins elections by flouting their violations of campaign finance laws; the Republican Party obeys those same laws to the letter, and its candidates are buried as a result.  Democrats use churches as political bases, while scaring Republicans out of so much as a guest speaking opportunity at a Sunday service.  Republicans watch Democrats commit massive vote fraud, from illegal alien voting to mail-in ballot fabrication, and are afraid to so much as call them on it, lest the Democrats’ media cronies will call them “racist” or “sexist” or some similarly ridiculous charge.

The simple fact is, every day, the American public gets a pro-Democrat – actually, it’s worse, a pro-statist, pro-socialist – picture of the world, from too many schools, too many churches, too many newspapers, too many websites. 

There is no such thing as an unbiased report anymore.  Should there be? Perhaps so, but it’s not reality, so there’s no good reason why such a fantasy should control our actions.

When a nonpartisan person dies – an actor or writer, a sports figure or musician – then sure, go ahead and stress the person’s positives.

But when a partisan dies – especially as destructive figure like Harry Reid, who can list America’s once-great healthcare system, our once-great manufacturing sector, and our once-great military, even the Romney 2012 presidential campaign, as some of the scalps he claimed in his long career – then yes, indeed, we should take that opportunity to correct the record.

Tell the truth, so that people who haven’t paid attention to him for a few years, if ever, can actually learn some unvarnished reality.

We do voters no good by contributing to their belief that the people who have been willfully destroying our nation for a century were decent folks.

If they were villains – and Harry Reid certainly was – then that’s too important a fact to leave out of the panoply of coverage upon their deaths.

Copyright 2022 John F Di Leo

John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer and transportation manager, writer and actor. A one-time county chairman of the Milwaukee County Republican Party, he has been writing regularly for Illinois Review since 2009.

 A collection of John’s Illinois Review articles about vote fraud, The Tales of Little Pavel, and his 2021 political satires about current events, Evening Soup with Basement Joe, Volumes One and Two, are available, in either paperback or eBook, only on Amazon.

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  1. When the time comes. just change the name plus a few personal facts, and this article will also apply to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, etc. etc. etc., and it will still apply.
    ALL have long been partisan, divisive political pains-in-the-butt.