On Grayson

by Paul on November 1, 2009

The New York Times has a piece on the rise of freshman Congressman Allan Grayson, in a piece entitled “Alan Grayson, the Liberals’ Problem Child“. (No, seriously, that’s what they called him.)

WASHINGTON — On paper, Representative Alan Grayson, a freshman Democrat from Florida, seems a bit stiff: degrees from Harvard and Harvard Law; a résumé that includes clerking for the United States Court of Appeals under Judges Antonin Scalia, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Robert Bork; an advocate for the aging.

But in recent weeks, Mr. Grayson has catapulted himself to national renown for outlandish rhetoric and a pugilistic political style that makes him seem less staid lawmaker than a character on the lam from one of his Orlando district’s theme parks.

So, multiple Republican elected officials can talk about ‘death panels’, and Dick Cheney, after years of ignoring Afghanistan when he had power, can accuse Obama of “dithering”, and that’s treated as serious discourse, but Grayson is “outlandish”? Give me a break.

The Times, rather than considering Grayson as a serious politician, sees him as just a Democratic version of a familiar DC character, the “problem child.”

Mr. Grayson joins colleagues like Michele Bachmann, Republican of Minnesota; Pete Stark, Democrat of California; and Joe Wilson, Republican of South Carolina, in what the decorum-minded see as a bipartisan playpen reserved for political problem children.

The author of the article even describes Grayson as a “wing nut” (and thereby revealing a basic misunderstanding of that blog-popularized term.)

Various Democrats, including some quoted in the article, worry about Grayson using a rhetorical style more familiar among Republicans.

“You cringe,” said Representative Earl Blumenauer, Democrat of Oregon and an unabashed liberal but also a buttoned-down gentleman. “We’re at risk of having a self-reinforcing corrosive process that drives reasonable people away.” He added: “It breaks my heart.”

To those who worry that Grayson’s tactic is “making us just like them”, I must point out that the key to Grayson’s comments is that they are exaggeration in the service of highlighting reality. The righties use their rhetoric in service of distortion and confusion.

The most corrosive part of right-wing discourse isn’t the emotionalism, it’s the intent to mislead and manipulate at its core.

Grayson is trying to shock people out of the Village’s insistence on ignoring ugly (but perfectly obvious) truths, not stir peoples fears and bigotry in an attempt to manipulate them. He’s also expressing legitimate anger at the way the right has been leading this country, leading us into war and ignoring real need.

Grayson suggests there is an alternative to unwittingly accepting a rhetorical frame that still pretends the right-wing is being serious about making real policy in the interest of what’s best for our country.

We shouldn’t all adopt Grayson-style rhetoric, but we could use a few more like him, highlighting the way the current definition of conventional rhetoric only serves right-wing interests.

I’ll start thinking it’s time for Grayson to tone it down when the Times comments about John Boehner’s ‘outlandish’ rhetoric, and refers to Senator Inhofe as the ‘wingnut Senator from Oklahoma’.

And the Times, instead of lumping Grayson in with such easily dismissed, fact-challenged dunderheads as Bachmann, Stark and Wilson, should think twice about what truths there might be in the colorful language, and why an obviously intelligent, accomplished, and presumably credible man might be saying such things.

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