The right is apoplectic, once again, at the antics of Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who aroused the ire of conservatives with a fundraising e-mail comparing the Tea Party to the Klu Klux Klan. The liberal provocateur's e-mail was as understated as usual, featuring a burning cross as the letter "T" in Tea Party. Allan West, a former Republican congressman from Florida, called the email "beyond disgusting."
After several days of silence, Democratic National Committee chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz begrudgingly gave Grayson a slap on the wrist yesterday, pronouncing herself "disappointed" at his use of a highly sensitive racial symbol. "Both sides need to dial back that kind of rhetoric and look to bring more civility into politics," she said (though she conspicuously stopped short of asking him to stop using the e-mail).
Grayson's inflammatory trolling of the right is anything but civil, but his unashamed willingness to indulge in ad hominem partisan demagoguery does call to mind an analogue on the other side of the aisle — Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
Both Cruz and Grayson have staked out positions on the fringes of their parties, portraying themselves as noble truth-tellers unafraid to break the genteel rules of Washington. Both are graduates of Harvard Law School, with a particular skill for issuing quote-ready bon mots for friendly, partisan media outlets.
Grayson delighted progressives by describing conservatives as the "bath salts caucus" back in January, telling liberal radio host Stephanie Miller they were "people that would rather eat your face than cut taxes on the rich."
Just like Cruz, Grayson first outraged the opposition as a newly ordained freshman, famously taking to the House floor in 2009 with a visual aid reading: "The Republican Health Care Plan: Don't get sick." To the fury of conservatives, Grayson announced to the House that if you do get sick, "the Republican health care plan is this: Die quickly."
Cruz was never quite so impolite as to suggest that Democrats want Americans to die — at least not in public — but he is no stranger to grandstanding on the Senate floor. And to the left, his epic, 21-hour "faux-libuster" against the Affordable Care Act was just as full of lies as Grayson's attack. "Fact-checking Ted Cruz has become old hat at this point," said George Zornick at The Nation.
Cruz also came under fire for his McCarthy-esque performance during the confirmation hearings for Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in which Cruz suggested the Vietnam veteran had taken money from extremist groups.
And in the same week Grayson found himself in hot water for racially-tinged insults at conservatives, Cruz was under fire for comparing the ObamaCare healthcare website's architects to Nigerian email scammers.
Both Cruz and Grayson have made enemies within their own parties; Democrats rounded on Grayson back in 2009 after he called an adviser to Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke a "K street whore"; no less a figure than Anthony Weiner said he was "one fry short of a happy meal." Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have all but distributed voodoo dolls of Cruz to spike with pins every time he opens his mouth.
There are huge differences between the two, of course. Grayson is at the very most a marginal figure in the Democratic Party, who lost his first seat in Congress and has little support among the grassroots. Cruz, however, is the face of his party's right wing and a near-certain candidate for the presidency. While Cruz raises money hand over fist, Grayson must resort to cheap political stunts to raise money like… well, comparing Tea Partiers to Klansmen.
In fact, liberal website the Daily Kos says Democrats could benefit from a genuine Ted Cruz of the left. "There isn't any Democrat who holds elected office today that is willing to go to extreme lengths, including threatening to shut down the government, to promote a progressive agenda," said one of the site's activists:
Republicans have their leader who is willing to go to great lengths to implement a far-right agenda in Ted Cruz. We don't have a leader in our party that is willing to go to great lengths to implement a progressive agenda, instead, we're stuck with a milquetoast establishment that has even been known to promote right-wing austerity measures. [Daily Kos]
Will Grayson rise from the "milquetoast establishment" to become the Cruz-like freedom fighter the Daily Kos dreams of? For the sake of the country's future, let's hope not.