Why are embattled Senate Democrats gambling away their communications cred on an out-of-touch 70-year-old man from Nevada, who regularly demonstrates he can't string together a dozen words in a coherent sentence? Why is the guy who represents the Las Vegas Strip not being replaced as Leader, sooner rather than later, by either the Senator for Wall Street or his colleague from State Street?
In the half-century since John Kennedy mastered the use of television for political communication, we have come to expect our politicians to feed us at least intelligible, if not nutritious, sound-bites.
Harry Reid doesn't know how to do that, as anyone awake for the 11 o'clock news for the past three years has so frequently been reminded. He may have a very fine-tuned ear for hearing the wishes of his caucus in the cloak room, but what comes out of his mouth on the TV in your living room invariably veers between bumbling and embarrassing.
This wouldn't matter so much if Democrats weren't facing serious problems holding onto their majority in the 2010 mid-term elections. But they are.
If I were a Senator who cherished my chairmanship on any committee, I would be urging Harry to devote full energy to his re-election bid, and step aside right now from the burdens of leadership.
Two guys wait in the wings to replace Reid: Majority Whip and Assistant Majority Leader Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, who serves on the Judiciary and Agriculture committees, and Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman and Wall Street's own Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who serves on both the Finance and Banking committees.
It has become cliche that the most dangerous spot in the Nation's Capital is between Chuck Schumer and a camera. He is a staple on the Sunday morning talk shows and breaking news on Cable News Network. He certainly knows how to deliver a sound bite.
But Schumer might be a communications disaster waiting to happen as Majority Leader. Anyone observing Schumer during his decades of service knows he is unable to shut off his mouth.
Sen. Durbin, on the other hand, is a user friendly communicator, who seldom has gotten himself into rhetorical trouble during almost 30 years in Congress (he was elected to the House in 1983, just two years after Schumer.) He speaks in fully formed sentences and paragraphs.
With a friendly Midwestern demeanor, Durbin comes from the reform tradition of Illinois politics, like his mentor and former boss the late Sen. Paul Simon. (Full disclosure: I was Simon's press secretary for five years in the U.S. House, and Durbin was his legal counsel when Simon was Lt. Governor of Illinois before being elected to Congress.)
Durbin is well liked by his colleagues, while many senators wish Schumer would check some of his media-seeking ego at the cloakroom door - even though they admire his fund-raising skill, hard-charging, take-no-prisoners style, and tremendous energy.
I came to Washington in 1975 as part of a first generation of modern political communicators (aka, "flaks") serving baby-boomer politicians whose careers depended on their TV-talking skills -- a new era of candidate-centered politics that replaced party-based campaigns.
In those 35 years, I have watched "good-on-TV" become part of the job description for legislative leaders. Whether it's Schumer or Durbin, the Senate Democrats need to change the Reid in their clarinet if they want voters to hear music instead of distracting noise.