Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Sorry Truth

The Democrats--who've been wishing and hoping for their own 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 laid out the Republican health reform plan with succinct sarcasm late Tuesday night. It's his Wednesday follow-up that has folks on both sides of the aisle raising eyebrows.

On Tuesday, the brash reformer--who ran on an anti-corruption platform and is apparently making good on his campaign promises( so much so his seat is said to be among the most vulnerable for the Dems in 2010), stated the Republican plan: "Don't get sick! And if you do get sick, die quickly." The grade school visual aids: marker on poster board underscored the Republican effort.

This scathing, sound-bitable description threw House repubs into a a fast frenzy.These characters--who've spent months stonewalling and spewing fear with the regularity of Old Faithful--demanded an immediate apology for the "breach of decorum." It was, after all, the most " mean-spirited statement" Rep. Duncan from Tennessee ever heard on the House floor.

Really? The worst, Congressman? What about your Republican colleagues cutting and capricious comments? Rep. Ginny Brown-Wade's characterization of the Democratic plan as " essentially saying to America's seniors: 'Drop Dead," doesn't seem particularly generous. How about Rep. Virginia Fox calling for a Republican plan that will be pro-life because it won't kill seniors?" Or Rep. Paul Braun: "I'm tellin' you, their plan's gonna kill people?" And on an on for months from the stop and set the reset button repubs. Would you call those genteel? Are they brimming with decorum? Or facts?

I know liberals and conservatives hear things differently; I'm pretty sure they've done a study at Harvard or somewhere( if not, a 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 conveniently dainty) body. But GOP ears were bleeding red, white and blue indignation. So on Wednesday morning, Rep. Tom Price of Georgia took to the House floor and demanded an apology from Grayson. Or else. The or else, of course, was a rebuke similar to the one received by Rep. Joe Wilson following his infamous "You lie" outburst at Obama.

Again, anyone can see the substantial differences between Wilson's rude blurt hurled at a President during a speech to a joint session of Congress and the daily rhetoric reps toss at each other during the course of political gamesmanship. But like I said, liberals and conservatives hear things differently.

So on Wednesday Grayson apologized. Sort of. "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 his cape, right? Well, not exactly. I guess Grayson couldn't resist going for the hyperbolic flourish. He ended with, "I apologize that we didn't vote to end this Holocaust in America sooner."

Uh oh. As the word left his lips, it started to run in cinematic slo-mo. I just knew he regretted it as it slipped out wrapped tightly in righteous indignation. He must have started sweating as visions of himself being lambasted on the Fox News spit ran through his mind.

Maybe not. Wednesday night, Grayson appeared on The Rachel Maddow show on MSNBC and barely bristled at his faux pas. To her credit Maddow--indisputably the most even-tempered of all cable TV hosts--gave him three chances to rescind the Holocaust reference. Grayson bobbed and weaved like a polished pol, until the third time when Maddow cornered him, practically spoon-feeding him the right answer. "Do you regret using the word 'Holocaust?'" she asked. Grayson finally conceded, "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 the Republicans to dodge culpability by making Grayson and his perceived insensitivity the new non-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. they want Congress to solve their problems. Or at least work on them," he said. And somewhere along the line he managed to call Republicans " foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals." Okay, so we're back to 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 use rabid rhetoric, the same must apply to Democrats. Still, I can't help but root for Grayson. He's like a chunkier, brazen 21st Century Mr. Smith taking on Washington. And I wish there were more like him.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


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