Who in the world is Alan Grayson, and why oh why are Daniel Burton, Virginia Foxx, Michelle Bachmann, Louie Gohmert and Steve King saying such nasty things about him? Come to think about it, who is the heck are Daniel Burton, Virginia Foxx, Michelle Bachmann, Louie Gohmert and Steve King? Well, all of them -- with the exception of Alan Grayson -- are Republican members of the House of Representatives. Each one of them has steadfastly voted against increasing the minimum wage (HR 2); against reauthorizing and expanding SCHIP, the "State Children's Health Insurance Program" (HR 976); against banning gay bias in the workplace (HR 3685) and against raising CAFE (fuel-efficiency) standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020 (HR 6).
I'm sure you get the picture. And for all you political junkies, Burton represents Indiana's 5 District; Foxx, North Carolina's 5th; Bachmann, Minnesota's 6th; Gohmert Texas' 1st; and King, Iowa's 5th.
As for Alan Grayson, he's the new Democratic representative from Florida's 8th District -- Orlando. He's kind of like Barney Frank: an incredibly intelligent bear of a man, who's Jewish, fast on his feet, tells it like it is, has a great and caustic sense of humor, wears his liberal bone fides like a badge of honor, and did his undergraduate, graduate and legal studies at Harvard. Unlike Barney Frank he's straight and the 12th richest member of Congress with an estimated net worth in excess of $31 million. (Grayson, who was born and raised in the Bronx, had a rough childhood, and made it to Harvard on the basis of brains, not family connections. While in school he lived very modestly and took odd jobs cleaning toilets and working as a night watchman. After graduating law school he started a telecommunications firm, which he eventually sold; hence his great wealth).
Wonderful. Marvelous. So what is this piece all about? Well, a couple of days ago (Tuesday September 30 to be precise), Rep. Grayson got up on the floor of the House and spent five minutes sticking his tongue firmly in his cheek. In brief, his speech went like this:
But I think that the Republicans understand that that plan isn't always going to work; it's not a foolproof plan. So the Republicans have a backup plan -- in case you do get sick. If you get sick in America, this is what the Republicans want you to do: DIE QUICKLY! That's right. The Republicans want you to DIE QUICKLY if you get sick.
Now, the Democrats have a different plan. The Democrats say that if you have health insurance, we're going to make it better. If you don't have health insurance, we're going to provide it to you. If you can't afford health insurance, then we'll help you to afford health insurance.
So America gets to decide: Do you want the Democratic plan or do you want the Republican plan? Remember the Republican plan: Don't get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly!
And its at this point that Burton, Bachmann et al got to their feet and expressed their shock, anger and outrage at their liberal colleague. Dan Burton was outraged by what he saw and heard to the point of apoplexy. As far as he and his Republican colleagues were concerned, Grayson's speech was a "grave offense to the dignity of this body," and along with others, demanded that Grayson apologize. Georgia Republican Tom Price -- himself a practicing orthopedic surgeon who, according to the National Journal votes with the Republicans 97% of the time -- went so far as to draft a formal resolution of condemnation and demanded that Grayson "apologize to our leader" for what he termed "a breach of decorum."
Here is Grayson's "apology":
I wish to apologize to America . . . to the dead . . . to the 44,789 who die every year in this country because they have no health insurance. I want to apologize to the families of the dead that we haven't voted sooner to end this Holocaust in America.
OK, I'll grant you that his use of the term "Holocaust" is way over the top and should have been replaced with something like "unmitigated tragedy," "horrifying spectacle" or even "shanda" -- well, Grayson is Jewish. But the use of so insensitive a term should not take away from his basic purpose -- of drawing attention to the Republican's game plan -- of simply standing in firm opposition to virtually anything and everything that Democrats propose -- whether it's on health care, the economy, foreign relations, education or the environment.
The "utter shock" with which Republicans responded to Alan Grayson's tirade reminded me of a scene from Casablanca: Major Heinrich Strasser (Conrad Veidt) "urges" Captain Louis Renault (Claude Rains) to shut down Rick Blaine's (Bogie) cafe.
Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?
Captain Renault: I'm shocked, shocked to find out that there's gambling going on in here! [a croupier hands Capt. Renault a pile of money.]
Croupier: Your winnings sir . . .
Just as Louie knew that Rick knew that the whole thing was a setup, so too, I believe, do the House Republicans know that their Democratic colleagues know that their "shock" is about as phony as a three-dollar bill. And just as Louie had long participated in that which so "shocked" him -- gambling -- so too have Republicans long participated in that which they now contend "shocks" them -- Grayson's comment to "die quickly."
Need proof? The following are direct quotes:
Rep. Steve King on July 15, 2009: They're [Democrats] going to save money by rationing care, getting you in a long line . . . places like Canada, the United Kingdom and Europe . . . people die when they're in line.
Rep. Ginny Waite Brown on July 21, 2009: Last week the Democrats released a health care bill which essentially said to America's seniors, "Drop Dead!"
Rep. Virginia Foxx on July 10, 2009: Republicans have a better solution that won't put the government in charge of people's health care . . . and it's pro-life, because it will not put seniors in a position of being put to death by their government.
Rep. Michelle Bachmann on July 15, 2009: The President's adviser, Dr. Emanuel, says medical care should be reserved for the non-disabled . . . so watch out if you're disabled.
And they're shocked at Alan Grayson's words? Give us all a break.
For untold years, Congress worked because its members worked with one another regardless of party affiliation. They worked with each other, did each other favors and tried to persuade each other of the fundamental correctness of their position. The very nature of the legislative process demands collegiality. Without it, the process does not and cannot work. Ever since the Republican Revolution during the Clinton years, collegiality has been in short supply. Progress has been an even rarer commodity.
When I got my first job on Capitol Hill 40 years ago, I loved hanging around one particular senator -- a venerable Southern gentleman who had been a Rhodes Scholar in the 1930s. He was without question the most intelligent member of Congress at the time. One day I asked him how in the world he could act with such utter civility towards all of his colleagues -- some of whom were utter Neanderthals.
"It's not always easy," he said with a twinkle in his eye. "If I think a man's an idiot or a fool, I simply refer to him as My distinguished and learned colleague."
"But what about when you're absolutely positive that the man's both a fool and an idiot?" I asked. "What do you do then?"
"Ah," he said, "If I'm positive that the man's a horse's hind-end, I refer to him as My MOST learned and distinguished colleague!"
From where I sit four decades later, he had the right idea. Its one heck of a lot better than feigning shock, thus gumming up the gears of government.
©2009 Kurt F. Stone