The two key legislative players in the Fiscal Cliff negotiations ended up being two of Washington's most powerful but least loved men: Senators Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid. I find both of them repellently fascinating. A friend of mine's sister was once McConnell's neighbor on Capitol Hill, and she described him as the nightmare neighbor from a movie, regularly yelling at her and threatening her with lawsuits. So far as I can tell, nobody likes the man, and he is so unpopular in Kentucky that last time he ran he was very worried about a primary challenge and engaged in lots of back room maneuvering to prevent one.
Reid exudes anti-charisma; listening to the man speak is like watching freshmen give oral reports. He barely managed to win re-election last time, after he undermined the most dangerous Republican candidates and helped insure that a Tea Party nutjob won their primary. Nobody seems to like him, either, certainly not Obama. Or John Boehner, who was so infuriated over comments Reid made about his leadership in the House that he told Reid to "go fuck yourself" in front of dozens of witnesses. And you have to think, knowing Reid, that he made those comments knowing exactly how Boehner would respond.
And yet the two of them lead their parties in the Senate. As to why, you have only to look to what happened this week. When everyone else had given up and gone home, they and Joe Biden were still at it, hammering away until they came up with a deal that everyone could accept.
Politics is a strange business.