Sometimes the best way to deal with a bully — from the insecurely diminutive, woefully untalented harridan who is nominally your boss to the obstreperous noisemakers in Congress and talk-radio America — is to bully a bully right back.
Alan Grayson, Democratic congressman from the 8th Congressional District in Florida, understands this. Weeks of observing the delaying tactics of the House Republicans on the health-care reform legislation took him this week to a series of mad-as-hell moments, part Jimmy Stewart cri de coeur, part whiteboard standup comedy. But Grayson’s statements distilled, in their own way, their urgency of the situation.
The first of these Enough! moments was when he went to the House floor Tuesday night to offer his illustrated take on the GOP health care plan.
After thanking his inspiration — the Republican lawmakers who sat waving paper during President Obama’s recent joint session of Congress — Grayson explained the epiphany of finally discovering what the Republican health-care plan was really all about:
“It’s a very simple plan,” Mr. Grayson said in an after-hours speech on the House floor Tuesday, unveiling a poster next to him that read in red and black capital letters, “The Republican health care plan: Don’t get sick.”
“But I think that the Republicans understand that’s not always going to work,” he added. "The Republicans have a backup plan in case you do get sick ... This is what the Republicans want you to do. “If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly.”
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It was a masterful appropriation of the Republicans’ attack-by-slogan technique of stirring up the grassroots. And the GOP was not amused. As you’d expect, the conservatives rolled out the big and little guns on Capitol Hill, firing back … but weakly, like when a bully discovers that outrage can neutralize outrage.
Two Tennessee Republicans weighed in. "That is about the most mean-spirited partisan statement that I've ever heard made on this floor, and I, for one, don't appreciate it," said Rep. Jimmy Duncan. “It's fully appropriate that the gentleman return to the floor and apologize,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn.
Tireless conservative apologist Michelle Malkin lamented “Grayson’s Diarrhea of the Mouth.”
Grayson didn’t slink off quietly and begin crafting an apology. Quite the contrary. The action on the House floor was just round one. He told Ryan Grim of The Huffington Post and other reporters that he intended to press his point. “I'm not taking any of it back. I stand by what I said,” he said.
“The point is that if you do get sick, you're going to have huge medical bills. Your insurance company's not going to help you and as a result of that you're going to end up having the plug pulled on you,” he said.
“I don't think that the Democrats have to be on the defensive for a bill that reduces health care costs, makes health care premiums affordable, makes people's health care coverage comprehensive in the sense that they can't be excluded for breaching lifetime caps or by preexisting conditions and helps all of the Americans who cannot afford health insurance today. I think we should be on the offense not the defense and that's where I plan to stay.”
Then Grayson went maybe a bridge too far, in a speech on the House floor on Wednesday night, with a barbed, poignant response to those demanding an apology.
“I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven't acted sooner to end this holocaust in America,” he said.
The blogosphere, some Jewish groups and others jumped on him for what they thought was an improper invocation of the Holocaust.
It’s clear in this video that Grayson was speaking in more general terms, in the clear and unmistakable generic context of “holocaust” in the lower case. Enlightened minds and others will disagree (and already have) over any use of the most tragically resonant word of the 20th century in a health-care context. What’s undeniable was the passion Grayson has invested in this pursuit preceding what will be, even in his freshman career, the fate of what’s likely to be his most important legislative endeavor.
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“On the offense” indeed. That same night, on MSNBC’s “Rachel Maddow Show,” Grayson responded to his critics with an even more caustic assessment of what the Republican and conservative opposition to health care reform is really about:
“We’re dealing with people on the other side who are utterly unscrupulous. These are foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who know nothing but ‘no.’ One way or another, we have to overcome it for the sake of the nation.”
Everyday people online loved it all.
Sailor50 at HuffPost: “Love you Alan Grayson! We need more bare knuckles in the Democratic Party. I am so sick of these "Greed Over People" members attacking everything that the people of this country want. Sick sick sick! When I am queen, they shall all be beheaded. And to think that I was once a GOP precinct committeewoman.”
Jesco-dancin-outlaw at HuffPost: “hallelujah hallelujah finally a democrat with a spine!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
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But this is bigger than partisan cheering or a Frank Capra moment in Congress. The stakes are higher — about 47,000 lives every year. Alan Grayson grasps what‘s at stake in this debate, he gets that the word debate doesn’t really even do it justice. The word suggests an academic exercise, something outta Roberts’ Rules of Order. This is bigger than that.
The success or failure of heath-care reform legislation will speak volumes about what our government means to American citizens, and about what the American people mean to the elected officials that run that government on their behalf. This is a moral and an existential crossroads the country is fast approaching, and quickly.
We know where Congressman Grayson stands. He’s girding for the battles ahead; built like a linebacker and with a refreshing pugnaciousness, he’s clearly not afraid to take on the graybeards in the institution he just joined. See him in the video? Looks like someone you want on your side in a fight. Especially this fight. Grayson’s anatomy is just fine, thank you. Especially the part required of a man of passion.
And the part required of a man of principle.
And the other parts required of a man.
Image credits: Grayson top: Still from "The Rachel Maddow Show," MSNBC. Grayson whiteboard: House floor pool.