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Sunday, October 4, 2009

Is Rep. Alan Grayson The New “Mr. Smith” (Goes To Washington)

By Amy Beth Arkawy

NEWS JUNKIE POST


The Democrats—wishing and hoping for a hero in the health scare debate—may have finally found their guy. Not that he’s perfect. But hey, who is? Freshman Florida Congressman Alan Grayson boldly and succinctly laid out the Republican plan for health care reform late Tuesday night. It’s his Wednesday follow-up that’s raising eyebrows on both sides of the aisle.

On Tuesday, the brash reformer, who ran on an anti-corruption platform and has apparently been making good on his campaign promises (so much so, his seat is considered one of the more vulnerable Democratic seats in 2010), with grade school poster board visual aids clearly stated the republican plan as, “Don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.”

This scathing, sound-bitable description threw the House Republicans into a fast frenzy. These characters—who have spent months stonewalling and spewing fear with the regularity of Old Faithful—quickly demanded an apology. It was the most “mean-spirited statement” Rep. Duncan from Tennessee had ever heard on the House floor. Really? What about Rep. Ginny Brown- Wade’s characterization of the Democrats’ plan as “essentially saying to America’s seniors: ‘Drop Dead’?” Or Rep. Virginia Fox calling for a Republican plan that “will be pro-life because it will not kill senior citizens.” Or Rep. Paul Braun: “Their plan’s gonna kill people?” And on and on all month long from the stop and set the reset repubs.

I know liberal and conservatives hear things differently; I’m pretty sure they’ve done a study at Harvard or somewhere to support this thesis (otherwise some scholar’s got a grant application in the mail). But I don’t think Congressman Grayson’s terse comments violated the rules of decorum of that esteemed (and dainty) body. But GOP ears were bleeding red, white and blue indignation. And so Rep. Tom Price from Georgia took to the floor Wednesday morning and demanded an apology from Grayson. Or else. The or else, of course, was a rebuke similar to the one Rep. Joe Wilson received following his infamous “You lie” outburst at President Obama.

Again, there are substantial differences between Wilson’s rude blurt hurled at the President during a speech before a joint session of Congress, and the daily rhetoric reps toss at each other in spirited political gamesmanship. But, as I said, liberals and conservatives hear things differently.

So on Wednesday Grayson apologized. Sort of. He said, “I apologize to the 45,000 people who die each year because they don’t have health insurance. I apologize to the dead and their families.” So far so good. The guy’s getting fitted for a cape, right? Well, not exactly. Grayson couldn’t resist, I guess, going for the hyperbolic flourish. He ended with, “I apologize that we didn’t vote to end this Holocaust in America sooner.”

Uh oh. Even heroes misspeak. As I heard the word leave his lips it started to run in a cinematic slo-mo; I just knew he regretted it as it slipped out, wrapped tightly in righteous indignation. He must have been sweating as visions of himself being lambasted over the Fox News spit flashed through his mind.

Maybe not. Grayson appeared on the Rachel Maddow Show on MSNBC Wednesday night and hardly bristled at his own faux pas. To her credit, Maddow—undisputedly the most even-tempered of all cable TV hosts—gave him three chances to rescind the Holocaust reference. He bobbed and weaved in classic pol style. But by the third time, she cornered him, practically spoon-fed him the right answer. “Do you think you should have used the word ‘Holocaust?” she gently pressed. Finally, Grayson gave in, conceding, “It probably wasn’t the best choice of words.”

And it wasn’t for obvious reasons. The Holocaust is such a loaded term for so many people. Using it in this context offends many and only serves as a distraction from Grayson’s solid facts, his stats, his sentiment. It allows Republicans to dodge their own culpability by making him, his perceived insensitivity, the issue.

But Grayson seems undaunted. After his meek concession to Maddow, he launched into a diatribe about the kind of politicians Americans want and need. “People want Democrats with guts. People want Congress to solve their problems… or at least work on them.” Somewhere along the line he called the repubs, “foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals.” Okay, so we’re back fitting Grayson for his cape.

The thing is: as one who has called for folks on both sides to ratchet down the rancor, I can’t pull a double-standard (I don’t, after all, work for FOX News). So, if it’s not helpful for the republicans to offer rabid rhetoric, the same applies to the democrats. But I admit to rooting for Grayson, seeing him as a sort of chunkier, brazen 21st Century Mr. Smith taking on Washington. And wishing there were more like him.

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