By A.B. Stoddard - 10/07/09 10:44 PM EDT
But then again, Rep. Joe Wilson (R-S.C.) hadn’t apologized for his ugly outburst, shouting “You lie!” at President Barack Obama in the House chamber. His leadership — bless House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) for trying — failed to convince Wilson, who was busy counting his rapidly mounting political contributions, that this was the kind of behavior members apologize for in the U.S. House of Representatives. Or at least it once was, back in the day.
Wouldn’t that be nice? No, in the new political reality apologies will be reserved only for crimes. Decency and dignity are dinosaurs. That it would occur to anyone to shout at a U.S. president, let alone accuse him of lying in the House chamber, would have been unimaginable just a short time ago. To throw the Holocaust around while accusing Republicans of being “Neanderthals” who want people to die may not be the same as insulting the president in front of 40 million Americans, as Grayson said Wilson did, but it achieves a new, similar low.
You could say Grayson was modeling a Palinesque brand of political rhetoric — if Sarah Palin could please her base falsely accusing Democrats of pushing “death panels” for the elderly and vulnerable, including her own son, then Grayson could falsely accuse Republicans of hastening death as well. But Grayson and Palin and Wilson, while popular on Facebook and YouTube and of course with their base, coarsen the debate and shame their party leaders, who, bullied by the peer pressure of polarization, choose to back them up.
Grayson’s correct assertions that the uninsured are dying at alarming rates and that Republicans need to join the healthcare reform debate in earnest could have been productive contributions to the healthcare debate but have been lost in the debate over how unctuous Grayson is.
Grayson, who is Jewish, apologized to the Anti-Defamation League for his Holocaust remark, but he remains defiant. A Grayson website (www.congressmanwithguts.com — no kidding) declares that Grayson pulls no punches, doesn’t equivocate and, “when his opponents start manufacturing outrage instead of dealing with the issues, he does anything but apologize.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said a 24-hour news cycle and polarized environment have crushed bipartisan cooperation and fueled discord between the parties. At the First Draft of History Conference last week, Graham said it is up to the voters to change Washington.
“If you elect people that are jerks, you get what you want ... if you get rewarded for being a jerk, you’re going to keep doing it.”
Before voters in the 8th district of Florida decide whether to return Grayson to Congress in 2010, they should know he wore pink cowboy boots as a lawyer to keep the attention of juries. This means if Grayson is reelected, then all of us — Pelosi included — ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Stoddard is an associate editor of The Hill.