12/02/2009 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Friday Talking Points [96] -- The Impressiveness of Alan Grayson

First, let's get rid of the distractions this week. Chicago will not be getting the Olympics in 2016, even after President Obama went over to Copenhagen on a personal charm offensive. While I think Rio is a good choice, personally (come on -- it's not just Rio's first Olympics, or Brazil's first Olympics, it is South America's first Olympics -- this is supposed to be a worldwide event, and yet Africa and South America have never hosted), I also think the cheap shots will be flying from Republicans soon -- and that they're going to shoot themselves in the foot by doing so. Glorifying an Obama defeat is fine for the GOP when we're talking domestic affairs, but Obama was promoting an American city on the world's stage. Republicans will pay a price for gleefully rooting for America to fail in such a fashion. Polls showed overwhelming (84 percent) support of the American public for a Chicago Olympics. And Republicans are looking more and more like they just want Obama to fail -- no matter what he is attempting. This is not exactly the best way to rebuild the party's appeal among suburban moderate voters.

And just think what those same Republicans would be saying if Democrats had cheered for a Republican president to fail in such an effort. My guess is the word "anti-American" would be used (if you'll forgive the irony) liberally.

In the entertainment world, two sex scandals are raging. I never thought I'd see the day when a child rapist was actively defended by anyone, but here we are. And as for the television show host, isn't that pretty much the classic definition of "sexual harassment in the workplace"? Not the extortion bit, mind you, but the affair itself. Strangely, the man was applauded by a live audience for admitting essentially what was once the textbook definition of sexual harassment -- the Big Boss preying on a lowly assistant. Back then, the point was all about the power, not the sex. But the audience sat there and applauded him; so again, I have to say -- here we are.

Sooner or later, the conservatives are going to dust off an old chestnut of theirs called "moral relativism." In these particular two cases, they're actually going to be right. Defending such behavior is moral relativism. "But he's such a talented guy" is simply not a defense, folks.

In the financial world, it was announced that two banks have now qualified to buy all those "troubled assets" we hear about on Wall Street. Note that this crisis happened a year ago and we had to create seven hundred billion dollars out of thin air to fix the problem (it's right there in the title -- "Troubled Asset Relief Program"), after which we didn't actually use the money to buy the troubled assets... um... because... I have to admit I still don't understand this mind-boggling reversal by the geniuses who run the Treasury and the Fed. Now, one year later, two banks are finally cleared to buy some troubled assets. Maybe next time Congress should check the fine print when these guys demand a mountain of money by the close of business tomorrow. I'm just saying....

But the real news, to get back to the sex scandal theme here (admit it, TARP is just boring, no matter who you are), is that our fearless "executive pay czar" Kenneth Feinberg is actually admitting in public that he's getting screwed by Wall Street. At least that's how it sounded to me. This is the guy whose job it is to be a watchdog and tell Wall Street not to hand out billions in "bonuses" for driving the American economy over a cliff.

Here is Feinberg talking to a bunch of lawyers, on the subject of limiting executive pay at companies that the American taxpayers now essentially own (read the whole article, and decide for yourself): "I'm hoping I won't be required to simply make a determination over company objections... It's been a very consensual process and I hope it will continue to be consensual."

Now, maybe he used the word "consensual" because that's how lawyers talk. But in the vernacular, consensual is used pretty much for only one reason -- when it is followed by the word "sex." Must be because it's got the word "sensual" right there in it -- how titillating! [OK, I'm sorry, I'll stop this unseemly innuendizing.] For example, see any discussion of the two sex scandals mentioned above. The word "consensual" will appear at some point in the discussion, either in the negative ("not consensual") or the positive ("c'mon, it was consensual").

So it seemed to me to be a very odd word choice indeed. Metaphor-wise, this is a real stinker. Because what it is essentially saying is that even though Feinberg's in bed with Wall Street and all the hanky-panky is consensual, it's really OK because nobody's actually getting raped when CEOs pocket millions for destroying their companies and the economy.

Except, perhaps, the taxpayers.

But Democrats weren't the only ones twisting metaphors this week. In a stunning example of doublethink of the first order, Republicans are simultaneously arguing that (a) government bureaucrats should never get between you and your doctor, and (b) any healthcare reform must have a government ban on health insurers providing abortion services in their plans. Um, OK. The only time the government is supposed to get between you and your doctor is when the doctor says something which our party doesn't agree with. Is that it? Shades of Terry Schiavo, methinks.

Our final distraction before we get to the awards is to note the passing of William Safire. Now, Safire was a pretty odious guy, which was outlined in some depth by David Bromwich at Huffington Post this week, so if you don't know why this guy deserves political scorn, you can brush up. His most notorious line of all time was in a speech he wrote for then-Vice President (before he resigned in disgrace, of course) Sprio Agnew, when he called political opponents "nattering nabobs of negativism." From his start in the Nixon White House (before Nixon resigned in disgrace, of course), Safire went on to become a conservative columnist.

But I have to admit a guilty pleasure. When living abroad, the International Herald Tribune would print a weekly column from Safire which looked through the microscope at language itself, and how it was currently being used in politics and journalism. And the column was informative and interesting, on that level alone. So, in a burst of bipartisanship, I'd like to say that even though I disagreed with Safire on just about everything, I did enjoy the purist look his column took at the changing political linguistic landscape. I'm just a language wonk at heart, I guess.


Harry Reid has come oh-so-close to winning a coveted Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award two weeks in a row now. Whew! Give 'em Hell, Harry!

Kidding aside, we do indeed have to hand Majority Leader Reid an Honorable Mention award, for two impressive acts this week. The first was virtually ignored by the media, but Harry Reid astonishingly cancelled a week of vacation for the Senate, in order to actually do some work, and the job Americans pay them to do. Rather than let everyone go home for Columbus Week (it used to be a Day, until Congress started handing out vacations to themselves), senators will instead stay in Washington and work on healthcare reform. This is in response to Republican obstructionism and foot-dragging, and is entirely deserved. Well done, Harry!

The second thing Reid is to be commended for this week was the statement he made to the Nevada press: "We are going to have a public option before this bill goes to the president's desk." Pretty strong words! Then, of course, one of his staffers had to walk it back a bit, but it's certainly stronger than anything Harry's said before, so we'll take it at face value for now. If he actually delivers on this promise, he can look forward to a real MIDOTW award for doing so.

Instead, we have two MIDOTW awards to hand out. The first goes to Washington, D.C. city Councilman David Catania. You may not have heard his name before (I certainly hadn't), but Catania could be pivotal in the gay rights movement. Because national Democrats have apparently decided that "now is not the time" to push repealing "Don't Ask/Don't Tell" (DADT) or the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Congress (or from the White House, I should add). Now is not the time, and next year (an election year) certainly won't be "the time" either. Democrats are content to sweep the issue under the rug for a while, for political expediency's sake.

Catania is going to force their hand. Because he is introducing a measure to allow gay marriage in the District. The city council has 13 members. There are 10 co-sponsors of the measure. Meaning it is going to pass.

But while normally a big city (or even a small state) would make news for legalizing gay marriage, it wouldn't be a huge national political story (at least, not these days). But D.C. is run by the federal government. Even though they have a city council and a mayor, they can be overridden at any time by Congress. On anything. Which means that Republicans are going to fight this in Congress. Which may force Democrats to actually take a stand on it. Now, while the gay marriage fight has been raging for a while, Congress hasn't weighed in on any of it for a relatively long time. Democrats have been comfortable to shy away from the issue, because they see it as a potential political minefield for them. So Councilman Catania has earned his MIDOTW award for refusing to play the "wait and see" game on the issue. And his actions may soon cause us all to see how House members and senators actually vote on it.

But we here at Friday Talking Points have to admit to a little pride in our foresightedness, because only one week ago we gave an award to a relatively-obscure Democrat in the House, for pointing out the fact that by trying to punish ACORN, Congress may have accidentally de-funded the entire military-industrial complex. Whoops! In any case, for his bold and amusing stand, we awarded him his first-ever MIDOTW award. And, we are happy to report, in an unprecedented streak, Representative Alan Grayson has won his second Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week in a row.

Maybe I haven't been paying attention (yeah, right), but I have not heard a better talking point on healthcare, Democrats, and Republicans yet. Grayson is being widely quoted for his two-part exposé of the Republican health care plan: (1.) Don't get sick. (2.) If you do get sick, die quickly. Now, you'd think that was a pretty succinct soundbite for the media, but you would be wrong. Their attention span is closer to three seconds, as they proved once again by cutting this even further to merely "die quickly."

The Republican response was as amusing as it was predictable. They howled. Like most bullies, they can dish it out, but they sure can't take the same medicine leveled at them. They called for all sorts of condemnations of Grayson, until it was pointed out to them that (a) no rules were broken by Grayson, and (b) the Republicans have been saying worse things for the past four months. So they'd have to condemn all of the "death panel" comments they've been making as well.

I looked for a transcript of Grayson's whole speech, but found only excerpts. So I am providing the full transcript in the Talking Points part of the program, as a public service.

For -- finally! -- showing that Democrats can occasionally play offense instead of always weakly defending, Alan Grayson wins his second consecutive Most Impressive Democrat Of The Week award. The most astonishing thing (for Democrat-watchers) was that Grayson, in the face of criticism from Republicans, actually refused to back down (although comparing 45,000 people dying each year because they don't have insurance to the Holocaust may have gone a wee bit too far, even I have to admit). He did get up in the House to apologize the next day -- to the people who died because they had no health insurance. And now, he is thanking "Republican hypocrites" for helping his fundraising efforts.

[Congratulate D.C. Councilman David Catania at, and Representative Alan Grayson at (202) 225-2176 (his House contact page seems to be for constituents only), to let them know you appreciate their efforts.]


There were a few disappointments this week as well. A (Dis-)Honorable Mention goes out to all the Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee who voted down two flavors of the public option, but that was entirely expected and one of the votes was closer than predicted, so I guess that's something.

But our Most Disappointing Democrat Of The Week award goes out this week to two Democratic senators. The first is a little personal, since Chuck Schumer seems to think that bloggers don't deserve to be called journalists, and is inserting language in a federal shield law specifically to exclude anyone who doesn't draw a full-fledged paycheck for writing. The blogosphere has been universally condemning Schumer's action, and for once, I am going along with the pack. How very disappointing, Chuck.

And our second MDDOTW award goes to Senator Ben Nelson, for publicly stating that he won"t vote with his own party on a cloture vote on healthcare reform -- meaning a Republican filibuster attempt may succeed. This isn't the first time Nelson's threatened to cross the aisle on a filibuster -- the last time he did so was on Obama's first Supreme Court nomination.

With Democrats like these... sigh.

[Contact Senator Charles Schumer on his Senate contact page, and Senator Ben Nelson on his Senate contact page, to let them know what you think of their actions.]


Volume 96 (10/2/09)

We only have three talking points this week, because the third one is so long. The third one is really the meat and potatoes, anyway. The first two are just appetizers.

I went looking for a video of Representative Grayson's remarks to transcribe this, and (amusingly enough) the random one I clicked on is Eric Cantor's YouTube page. The Republican Minority Whip obviously posted it up to generate some outrage, but the comments on YouTube seem to be taking a direction Cantor didn't expect (feel free to browse on over and add your own, of course).


   We got your eighty percent right here...

This first one is just a mathematical coincidence I noticed and had to point out.

"President Obama has stated over and over again that people in Congress seem to agree on about 80 percent of what needs to be done on healthcare reform. As it turns out, he is correct. Four out of five of the committee bills on healthcare reform agree on one thing -- the need for a strong public option. Four out of five of these bills are in complete agreement. Put another way, 80 percent of the bills contain a strong public option. So the committees have spoken, and we can move on to solving the remaining 20 percent."


   Calling paranoid delusions by name

The second item is a true appetizer, because it was also said by Congressman Grayson. While looking for his recent floor speech, I came across an earlier speech transcript (his web site has a PDF version only). While some of the details have changed, I found it to be remarkably effective language -- clear, succinct points made in very forceful terms. Since this is exactly what this column regularly attempts to convince Democrats to do, I thought I should highlight at least part of this previous Grayson speech. Here is how Democrats should have been talking all along:

Here are some things that the bill won't do: It won't give coverage to illegal aliens. It won't ration health care. It won't establish "death panels" to deny anyone care. It won't herd people into the public option. It won't cap doctors' salaries. It won't let the Government audit every business in America, or seize your computer or your bank records, or kill you. These are paranoid delusions, promoted by fear-mongers. They simply aren't true.


   Don't get sick. If you do get sick, die quickly.

Full transcript of Alan Grayson's recent address to the House of Representatives:

Thank you, Madam Chairman.

You may recall that a few weeks ago, President Obama came to this chamber, and he addressed the chamber on health care before a joint session of the House and the Senate. During that session I was privileged to be here, and I saw my colleagues on the far side of the aisle, the Republicans, waving pieces of paper during his speech, and I was wondering what they were. I couldn't imagine -- it almost seemed like they wanted President Obama's autograph. I just didn't get it.

I heard from one of my colleagues that this is what they called the Republican health care plan. I went over, after the speech was over, I picked up a copy that was lying down on the Republican side, and it turns out that the Republicans' health care plan was a blank piece of paper. I inquired further, trying to find out exactly what the Republicans' health care plan is. And it's my duty and pride tonight to be able to announce exactly what the Republicans plan to do for health care in America.

It's this. Very simply -- it's a very simple plan. Here it is. The Republicans' health care plan for America: "Don't get sick." That's right -- don't get sick. If you have insurance, don't get sick; if you don't have insurance, don't get sick; if you're sick, don't get sick -- just don't get sick!

That's what the Republicans have in mind for you, America. That's the Republicans' health care plan. But I think that the Republicans understand that that plan isn't always going to work -- it's not a foolproof plan. So the Republicans have a backup plan, in case you do get sick. If you get sick in America, this is what the Republicans want you to do. If you get sick, America, the Republican health care plan is this: "Die quickly." That's right. The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick.

Now, the Democrats have a different plan. The Democrats say that: "If you have health insurance, we're going to make it better. If you don't have health insurance, we going to provide it to you. If you can't afford health insurance, then we'll help you afford health insurance." So America gets to decide. Do you want the Democratic plan, or do you want the Republican plan? Remember, the Republican plan: "Don't get sick. And if you do get sick, die quickly."

Thank you very much, Madam Speaker.


Chris Weigant blogs at:

Full archives of FTP columns:

All-time award winners leaderboard, by rank