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GOP should want Harry Reid to hang in

By John Feehery, Special to CNN
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Republican John Feehery says GOP benefits from having Harry Reid as Senate majority leader
  • Feehery says Reid and other Democratic leaders are out of touch with today's world
  • He says they represent a big-government philosophy that is outmoded
  • Sen. Chris Dodd's upcoming departure helps Democrats by removing a likely loser, he says
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Editor's note: John Feehery worked for former House Speaker Dennis Hastert and other Republicans in Congress. He is president of Feehery Group, a Washington-based advocacy firm that has represented clients such as News Corp., Ford Motor Co. and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He also was a government relations executive vice president for the Motion Picture Association of America.

Washington (CNN) -- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is in hot water for some comments he made to reporters in a new book called "Game Change." In the book, Reid said, Barack Obama had a chance of winning because he was both "light-skinned" and didn't speak with a "Negro dialect."

Some Republicans have called for Reid to step down.

I, for one, think Reid should stay on as leader of the Senate Democrats. He should stick around to face the voters in November.

While I understand why some of my fellow Republicans would want Reid to resign, I think he represents well the current plight of the congressional Democrats.

Reid's comments reflect the views of a man who is stuck in the past. Such language may have been completely acceptable in 1955 but is now completely unacceptable.

While Reid's comments perfectly reflect how out of it he has become, he is not alone. Reid is 70, his House counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, turns 71 in March, and Steny Hoyer, Pelosi's No. 2, turned 70 last year. Dick Durbin is a relative newbie at 65, which is retirement age for many people. The committee chairs are even older, with most of them in the House and Senate getting close to their eighth decade.

As these congressional leaders grow older, they grow more and more out of touch with the concerns, mores and beliefs of the American people. Reid's comments only highlight how antiquated their views have become.

Part of it is philosophy. All of these Democratic leaders believe deeply that a bigger government presence is the best way to solve the problems that confront this nation. That is why they are comfortable pushing for a plan that puts the federal government more squarely in control of health care spending, believe that the best stimulus comes with public sector spending, and are pushing for more government control of the energy, automobile and banking sectors.

These leaders are old-school liberals whose age and philosophy are increasingly outdated and increasingly unpopular with the voters.

Reid epitomizes this dynamic. His comments over the last couple of years have ranged from the bizarre to the offensive. Remember when he said that the Iraq war was lost in 2007? Or when he said that he was glad that the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center was built, at a cost exceeding $1 billion because he wouldn't have to "smell" the tourists. Or when he called President Bush a "loser," in a civics classroom of high school students, no less.

And last summer, he told a reporter to "turn up your hearing aid" at a press conference when the reporter asked a question he didn't like.

But it isn't the media that are having a hard time listening to the American people. It is Reid and the rest of his colleagues in the Democratic leadership, who would rather cover their ears than be responsive to the desires of the voters.

The people of Nevada certainly don't think that Reid is listening to them. According to a Mason-Dixon poll taken in the first week in January, Reid's poll numbers are catastrophically low. Thirty-three percent approve of the job he is doing, while a whopping 52 percent disapprove, and many say they don't believe he can win re-election in the face of such numbers.

If Reid steps down from his leadership position, his replacement will likely be Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, an ambitious and politically more talented senator. If Reid decides to resign his seat, who knows who would take his place on the ballot? Probably not anybody who is less well-liked than the current occupant.

I don't think either result serves the interests of the Republican Party.

Let's learn from the Chris Dodd experience. Dodd decided to quit in the face of terrible poll ratings, rather than fight a tough election campaign in Connecticut, making it harder for Senate Republicans to capture his seat. Instead of calling on Reid to resign, we should make sure he faces the music of an angry electorate. The longer he stays as majority leader, the better our chances this coming fall.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Feehery.