This is not intended as a compliment, but it's obvious that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is a master politician.
Reid proved it in 2007 when he killed immigration reform as a favor to organized labor and then made it look as if Republicans had swung the ax.
Reid proved it again Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press" when he accused President Bush of having a plan to "destroy Social Security."
The president intended no such thing -- he only wanted to use private savings accounts to save a program that will soon be awash in red ink.
Yet, now it seems, the master might have met his match in Rod Blagojevich.
The embattled Illinois governor took a break from preparing his defense against federal corruption charges to put Reid on the defensive.
The two Democrats are slugging it out over Reid's refusal to seat former Illinois Attorney General Roland Burris -- Blagojevich's choice to fill the Senate seat vacated by President-elect Barack Obama. Federal prosecutors claim that Blagojevich tried to sell the seat to the highest bidder, although they haven't yet indicted the governor.
Still, the mere allegation of wrongdoing is apparently good enough for Reid, who called on the governor to resign.
Blagojevich didn't take kindly to that, and so he responded with a little political jujitsu. Now Reid finds himself in the uncomfortable position of proving that he is amenable to putting an African-American in the Senate.
It's not just because Reid is standing in the Senate doorway.
There is more to it. According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Reid called Blagojevich on Dec. 3 -- six days before the governor's arrest on federal corruption charges -- to talk about the Senate vacancy.
During the call, Reid allegedly made clear that three possible replacements -- Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., Rep. Danny Davis, and state Sen. Emil Jones -- would be unacceptable because their chances for re-election in 2010 might not be strong enough to satisfy him.
All three of these gentlemen happen to be African-American.
During his appearance on "Meet the Press," Reid denied that he ever coached the governor on whom to appoint.
"This is part of Blagojevich's cloud," Reid said. "He's making all this up. I had a conversation with him. I don't remember what was in the conversation, other than the generalities that I just talked about. I didn't tell him who not to appoint. He's making all this up to divert attention."
To refresh his memory, maybe Reid should have checked with his own staff.
Two days earlier, Reid spokesman Jim Manley sent an e-mail to The Associated Press confirming that Reid called Blagojevich because "it is part of his job as majority leader to share his thoughts about candidates who have the qualities needed to succeed in the Senate."
Which is it? We may soon find out, given that the conversation is likely on tape.
If the media reports hold up, here's the significance: We have the unsightly spectacle of the Senate majority leader (who represents a state -- Nevada -- that has never elected an African-American senator) judging the people of Illinois (who have already elected two African-Americans) as not liberal enough to elect another one.
But is that racism?
Maybe we should broaden the criteria a bit.
Let's say that, if you scheme to put your own interests above the interests of a particular racial group relying on racist assumptions about who is electable so the end result is that you exclude members of that racial group, then some might call you a racist. With that as the standard, Reid might have a shot at the title.
Reach Ruben Navarrette at firstname.lastname@example.org.