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Truthdigger of the Week: Rep. Alan Grayson (Video)
Posted on Mar 22, 2014
The night before I met Florida Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson in Washington, D.C., in late February, I spent a few minutes listening to a young man in a tailored suit and an easy smile describe the virtues of a “bipartisan political movement” called “No Labels.” Among its ranks, the group once boasted, were no fewer than 70 members of Congress. My new friend may well have been quoting propaganda directly off the organization’s website. The nonprofit, which was formed in 2010 and is not required to name its donors, wants onlookers to believe it is “a citizens’ movement of Democrats, Republicans and independents dedicated to a new politics of problem solving.”
The following morning, as my brother, our videographer, was pinning microphones on our lapels, Grayson told me he had heard of the group. He was friendly with some of its Democratic members. One day, in anticipation of her chance to demonstrate her commitment to the group’s professed ideals, one of his colleagues expressed to him her plan to sit on the Republican side of the chamber during the president’s State of the Union address.
“You’re really gonna regret that,” he cautioned her. But the member didn’t listen. “She regretted it,” he told me. “Every time anyone among the Republicans stood up and applauded, she sat down. And every time she stood up and applauded no one else did. So much for ‘No labels.’ ”
The power to parse bullshit is an honored prize among truth seekers, and it was this power of Grayson’s that drew me to him when he was attacking House Republicans during the Obamacare clashes of 2009. “It’s my duty and pride tonight to be able to announce exactly what the Republicans plan to do for health care in America,” the former lawyer said in one of the House’s most memorable performances that year. “It’s this: Very simply … don’t get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly.”
Some of the larger left’s more genteel members take issue with this kind of treatment of those on the right-hand side of the aisle. I asked Grayson about the incompetence of those he targeted. He didn’t see it that way. “I don’t think that Congress is incompetent,” he said. “I think that the people in charge here in the House are serving their corporate masters and are doing so quite effectively and are doing it as effectively as they possibly can. They’re doing everything they can to defeat any sort of progress in the country, whether you’re talking about inequality or health care, or whether you’re talking about jobs or education. They’re very good at it, and my hat is off to them, except for the fact that I think of all the suffering that entails in the lives of ordinary people all around America, which they seem to be utterly inured to. They just don’t care. They’re calloused, bigoted tools and they’re acting for the benefit of their corporate patrons who are the real owners of the Republican Party. The fact is that Congress is gridlocked because that’s the way corporate interests want it.”
Criticism has followed the congressman’s inflammatory style from the start, but anyone mildly acquainted with the facts knows his assessment corresponds with the truth. Throughout the legislative battles of the early Obama years, the corporate-owned, right-wing media carefully painted the whole of the party to which Grayson belongs as inflexible and constitutionally unwilling to compromise with their more conservative peers. The unfortunate and regrettable fact is that little could be further from the truth. But even if it were true, standing alone, that account ignores the history of the death of congeniality in Congress at large. It was killed by Republicans themselves, by Newt Gingrich in particular during the conservative revival of the 1980s and early ’90s.
Much like the successes of the right, it is impossible to deny that Grayson’s tactics have worked, and done so to the clear benefit of the public. After hounding Republicans zealously during his first term, he was named the most effective member of the House by Slate magazine midway through his second term in 2013 for passing more amendments than any of his colleagues—a significant achievement in a chamber dominated by the opposing party. His bills included a corporate death penalty for contractors who broke the law, a prohibition on law enforcement’s purchase of weaponized drones and a 50 percent increase in financial assistance for non-English speakers who are unable to negotiate housing agreements without the help of a translator. These were “not bills to rename post offices,” he told me, but “important amendments that were actually progressive values expressed and embodied.”
In a city where evil often gets its way through the obfuscation of meaning, the names applied to Grayson’s bills are respectfully straightforward. A student of George Orwell’s writings on the liberating potential of plain speech, Grayson has sponsored the “Medicare You Can Buy Into Act”, the “Seniors Have Eyes, Ears and Teeth Act” and the “War Is Making You Poor Act.” In response to revelations of domestic spying by the National Security Agency, in January he introduced the “Big Brother Is Not Watching You Act.”
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