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Harry Reid and the politics of love

Alex Bybee
Alex Bybee

The poetic juxtaposition of Harry Reid’s memorial service just two days following the first anniversary of Jan. 6 was not lost on me. The former a meditation on love, the latter an insurrection motivated by fear. Both represent the fundamental choice we have in our politics. 

If “cruelty springs from weakness” (or fear), as posited by the Stoic philosopher Seneca, then it follows that love springs from strength. When I speak of love, I do not only mean soft or sentimental love. I mean fierce love. The kind that, as one speaker put it, “never throws the first punch but swings back if necessary.” The kind that stands up and speaks truth even when it’s hard. The kind of love that protects what we cherish most: our land, our rights, our dignity. 

As a father, that love was knowing to put his family first, and as his daughter Lana put it, “making time for anything important” to them. As a senator, it was honoring our shared right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. As a Nevadan, that love was shown in innumerable ways: expanding our influence in national politics, revitalizing our economy, and preserving its natural beauty. 

After death, one’s life seems to take on an almost mythologic quality. The anecdotes are more potent. The memories are more resonant. The example is more profound. It is therefore important to pause and remember that all human beings are fallible, Sen. Reid being no exception. 

But that does not mean that we become cynical and turn away from the ideals to which we aspire. That does not mean we abandon the collective pursuit to form a more perfect union. And if the lyrics that Flowers sang from the last song Reid ever heard — “don’t break character,” “rise up like the sun and labor till the work is done,” “if they drag you through the mud, it doesn’t change what’s in your blood” — are any indication of who he aspired to be every day, then I count him as a good man.

The program had many reflections on love — and its transformational power both personally and politically. As Carole King sang ‘In the Name of Love’ at his service, the lyrics  “birth and life and death make a circle we are all part of,” stood out to me. Harry Reid’s politics and body of work are a recognition that we are all part of the same circle. 

His son, Leif, shared that the day before their dad passed, all of the siblings collectively were trying “to ease his pain—to comfort him.” Reid’s lifelong commitment was doing the same for millions of people he never knew. Full circle.

Though I met Reid a handful of times having grown up in Nevada, and enjoyed our exchanges, I did not know him personally as many did. Having come of political consciousness during the time of his final re-election in 2010, however, he was a towering figure whose example shaped my understanding of what’s possible for someone interested in politics from the humble state of Nevada.

My reflections on his life may be through synthesizing others’ impressions of him, his legislative achievements, and the small exchanges we had over the years. I may have more of a sense of the idea of who he was than anything. But many public figures are both person and idea. And I choose to remember him in this way — in a way that inspires me to stay engaged in tending to our shared home.

Today, Sen. Reid will lie in state in the U.S. Capitol, an institution he protected as a police officer and served as a member of both houses. His soul and memory bring light to the very Rotunda that those motivated by fear ransacked one year ago. President Biden reflected in his remarks that Reid was “about power to do right by people, not power for the sake of power.” 

Those who stormed the Capitol see the politics of doing right by people as a threat to their power. As the nation continues to look more and more like the state Senator Reid dedicated his life to represent, white supremacists, reactionaries, and their accompanying allies will attempt to instill fear in those of us seeking a more loving politics. They will lose.

Fear is weak. Love is strong. Reid reminded us of this. The nation must remember this, too, if we are to sustain the democracy that he dedicated his life to serve. It’s on all of us to fight the good fight. 

Together, in his honor, let us—

“Do the things [we] believe in 

In the name of love 

And know that [we] aren't alone.”

  • Carole King

May the wind blow wild and free in his memory. May he rest in peace in this lovely spot, just the only one, that means home sweet home to [us]. May we all continue to search for the light — for the sake of ourselves and the sake of each other. 

And, though the lyric of our beloved state song may read, “way out in the land of the ‘setting’ sun,” I see us as the land of the ‘rising’ sun. I have Sen. Reid to thank for that.

Alex Bybee is an education nonprofit professional, specializing in communications, strategy, and government relations. He is a longtime community advocate, and currently serves as co-chair of the advisory council for The Nevada Independent and steering committee for Compassionate Las Vegas. You can follow him on Twitter @AlexBybeeNV.

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