What Statements Are 'Too Far?'

This one’s going to be long, because it takes some back-story, and I don’t know who knows how much of this. So, grab a cup of coffee and join me at the round table.

I’m particularly interested in the thoughts of any women reading this. I want to get them, (the thoughts, I mean – not the women, LOL). Here’s the story (you may have already heard some, but probably not all, of this):

Alan Grayson is the current cause celebre (or enfant terrible, depending upon your point of view) of the Democratic house of representatives. He’s the guy who used a floor speech in the house of representatives to say that the Republican health care plan was “don’t get sick, and if you do, die quickly.” He’s full of bombast, but also quite literally one of the only Democrats in I can’t even remember how long to exhibit even a residual spine (Dennis Kucinich being one of the few others I can think of off the top of my head). For extra fun, watch him disassemble hapless Georgia Representative Paul Broun. Grayson has a degree in – and worked professionally as – an economist, then went to Harvard Law school, so it’s entertaining to watch him fillet wingnuts.

Anyway, being an outspoken and unapologetic liberal has earned him the everlasting enmity of the Republican caucus, who have declared him their #1 target for the 2010 elections for having the temerity to use some of the exact same tactics and verbiage that the Republicans used and encouraged all along with respect to the August festival of teabaggery, etc. Like most bullies, the GoOPers aren’t really sure what to do with someone who not only refuses to be bullied, but uses some of their own tactics against them. “Dish it out, but can’t take it” is the phrase that comes to mind, watching the Republicans try – and fail – with their usual fauxtrage and high dudgeon against Grayson.

Soo…here’s the setup for the question: about five weeks ago, Grayson was on right-wing radio host Alan Jones’ show. During the interview, the subject came up of Grayson’s support of a Republican-authored bill which would audit the federal reserve (something which hasn’t been done previously). Grayson’s not supporting this bill out of some “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” type of Washington-insider horse trading, but because he actually agrees with it (I know! How novel!). A woman named Linda Robertson, who was recently hired as the primary lobbyist for the federal reserve, vehemently opposes this measure. Not only does she oppose it, but she also had recently taken the time in an interview to specifically rebuke Grayson personally over his support for the bill, saying that he didn’t understand the difference between monetary policy and fiscal policy, etc – essentially saying that Grayson’s support was based upon ignorance of economics.

When the subject came up during the interview on Jones’ radio show, Grayson said the following: ”Here I am, the only Member of Congress who actually worked as an economist. And she’s, this lobbyist, this K Street whore, is trying to teach me about economics.” The “whore” reference is obviously the metaphorical rather than literal sense of the term, but what Grayson was referring to was Linda Robertson’s past. In short: she was the lead lobbyist for Enron during the years it was not only defrauding ratepayers in California and elsewhere (as well as its own employees), but also pushing for (and creating) the huge time bomb in the financial markets known as the Credit Default Swap (CDS). As a direct result of Robertson’s actions, the CFMA (Commodity Futures Modernization Act) was passed, giving us what’s become known as the ”Enron loophole.” You might have heard of it. In short, this was one of the key pieces of legislation (along with the Gramm-Leach-Bliley act) which helped set the stage for the near-collapse of the entire US financial system late last year. Linda Robertson is quite literally one of the primary tools used by the advocates and architects of financial deregulation at Enron to accomplish their mission. It was her job to sell it to Congress and the regulators. She succeeded.

So that’s what Grayson was referring to when he called Robertson a “K Street whore.”

Obviously, though, “whore” is a very loaded – and intentionally derogatory – word, and it’s here where we come to the part where I’d especially like women’s opinions (on any of this). After Grayson’s interview on the Jones show, the tapes of the interview sat around for an entire month. Jones himself didn’t really mention it afterwards, and it might have sunk onto the dusty shelves of history, were it not for the industrious little oppo-research gnomes of the NRCC – who were already trying to find whatever dirt or smear-able material they could use on Grayson, their #1 target for 2010. One of them dug up this “whore” quote, and within hours, it had circulated on capitol hill and at the websites Politico and RedState (which I will not link to because they’re, quite frankly, slime). The gist of the attack was that the word “whore” was over the top. In fact, the Politico piece was even titled “Alan Grayson Goes Too Far For Colleagues.” RedState, as you might imagine, was even more critical of Grayson’s remarks. Grayson was called sexist, out-of-control, and various other things, all of them centering around the perceived insensitivity and transgression of having called Linda Robertson a whore for the work she did at Enron.

As is virtually always the case with such Republican attacks, their goal was not to argue the point on the merits (no one thought Grayson was suggesting Robertson sold sexual favors for money, the gist of his attack was her shilling in a harmful-to-the-country fashion for her deep-pocketed employers). Instead, the NRCC worked behind the scenes to highlight the quote amongst Democratic colleagues of Grayson, to separate and marginalize him by getting his colleagues to join in the moral condemnation, the ritual public humiliation of Grayson. Shades of Joe Lieberman’s floor speech during the Lewinsky hearings.

There’s no doubt that Grayson is something of a loose cannon. He is very smart and very well educated, but he’s also something of a bully, and he’s perhaps a bit too full of himself. He’s also the thing Republicans fear most, in their worst nightmares: a Democrat with stones. Much of the GOP’s success over the last twenty years (or longer) can be attributed to their ability to manipulate their Democratic colleagues’ behavior through the deployment of strategically planned hissy fits of false outrage. George Bush (advised, undoubtedly, by Karl Rove) dropped the vote on the AUMF (the Iraq war vote) strategically less than a month before congressional elections, and then went on a concerted media tour to suggest that now, when the nation was in such peril, was not the time for dithering or dissent; that it might just not be all that patriotic to think otherwise. And we know the results. That’s only one of a long string of similar lines of attack: think gay people might be entitled to the same rights as straight people? We’ll say you’re “anti-family.” Support a dialogue with even countries that are traditional adversaries, so we can learn more about their plans and even maybe if progress in relations is possible? We’ll say you’re weak on terrorism and defense, probably because you have a patriotism deficiency (remember the flag-lapel-pin foo-raw?). You get the idea. Grayson’s clear-eyed enough to not only not buy the GOP’s hypocritical bullshit on these matters, but to hit back, hard, in exactly the same way that the Republicans do – forcing them to either let it pass, or be exposed as hypocrites. After Grayson’s “die quickly” floor speech, Republicans rushed to insist that he apologize. Enter Rachel Maddow and various other newspeople who showed clips of Republican congresspeople saying literally exactly the same things about Democratic health care plans (“pull the plug on Grandma,” by Charles Grassley, (Democrat’s health care bill) “says to the nation’s seniors: drop dead” by Ginny Brown-Waite, etc.). Uh-oh. The media – and the public – were starting to “see the man behind the curtain” – and that, if left unchecked, will spell doom for those sorts of attacks – at least for a while.

However, in this case – unlike his repeated, vehement rejection of similar calls for apologies for previous comments – the upshot of everything was that, in the end, Grayson did indeed apologize, saying: “I offer my sincere apology to Linda Robertson, an adviser to Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. I did not intend to use a term that is often, and correctly, seen as disrespectful of women.” (there’s a bit more at the link, but that’s the gist).

So here’s the question for which I’d love female input: should Grayson have used this particular remark to begin with? This is a guy who’s – on camera – characterized FOX News as “an enemy of peace” and Dick Cheney as “a vampire with blood dripping from his fangs” – remarks for which he’s flatly rejected similar GOP appeals for apology. I get the sense that he sometimes – especially in interviews – shoots from the hip, verbally, which can lead to mistakes and/or regrettable comments for anyone (just ask Joe Biden, LOL). So it’s entirely possible that the “whore” remark was off-the-cuff. I think it’s even likely that was the case. If so, should he have apologized? Was “whore” a “bridge too far” for Grayson? It’s obviously true that just because the Republicans are quite explicitly trying to bring Grayson down with every method at their disposal doesn’t mean that he couldn’t actually do something horrible or sleazy or worthy of an apology. On the other hand, this quote DID sit fallow for more than a month…and it’s not as if Grayson’s the first person to make the lobbyist-whore connection explicitly, either. So, what do YOU think? Is this just one more example of Republicans clutching their pearls very publicly in an attempt to get voters to hold Democrats to standards they themselves don’t adhere to (or even believe in)? Or was this too much, a comment for which Grayson should have apologized?

To get your thinking caps whirring, here are two very different responses, both from blogs I read regularly. The first is from a lefty, progressive, cutting-edge feminist group blog called feministe, and the second is from the personal blog of another lefty woman who blogs under the name BlueGal. She’s a Harvard divinity school graduate and now mother of several kids. She’s also a regular blogger at Crooks and Liars.

Here’s the feministe post:

Someone get this man a dictionary – because he’s having some trouble with definitions:

So last month when Enron’s head lobbyist, Linda Robertson, reborn as the Fed’s head lobbyist, attacked congressmen pushing for an audit of the Fed– primarily Grayson and Ron Paul– as ignorant of the difference between monetary policy and fiscal policy, Grayson reacted by pointing out that Robertson has a long and well-known career as a “K Street whore.” She shills for whoever pays her.

Alan Grayson didn’t say they should all be lined up against a wall and shot; he probably wouldn’t even agree with that as an excellent way to help get the country back on a good footing– especially because there actually are some good one in the lot. But those good ones do not reside on K Street and no one not of that K Street Culture of Corruption world would count Linda Robertson as one of the good guys. She was, after all, the head of Enron’s lobbying office– a position that defines the word “whore.”

I’m not actually sure that heading a lobbying office is how we define the word “whore.” Perhaps Klein meant, to him,”whore” means “a woman I don’t like”?

(For the record, I think it was a pretty screwed up thing for Grayson to say, and I’m glad he apologized. There are plenty of ways to criticize Enron lobbyists without misogynist and sexualized name-calling. He was wrong, he owned up to it, and now it doesn’t do liberals much good to stand up for him. Just take the hit on this one, guys, and let’s all move on).

And now, BlueGal’s post:

GMB at I can’t believe it’s not a democracy! says what needs to be said. Beltway whores freak out over being called whores.

Anyone who wants to make that into an anti-feminist comment can bite me. Joe Lieberman is a whore. It’s the term I choose, as a writer and a feminist, to describe what he is doing to SELL OUT AMERICA. If in this era of deep change and national crisis certain feminists choose to sit on their vaginas and debate nomenclature because “words have power”? Glad your trust fund allows you all that time to major in women’s studies, sister.

I really think that’s the silver lining in this healthcare debate, is the uncovering of just how much lobbyists OWN the Congress. The whole “take your country back” thing?

If only.

If you didn’t click through to the “I can’t believe it’s not a democracy” post, the author there makes one other point not incorporated into BlueGal’s post: that although certainly the term “whore” usually negatively connotes a woman, the term itself is not gender specific. The author of that point puts it pithily: ”

I’m a woman and I don’t see “whore” as disrespectful to women. Case in point: Jeff Gannon.

” (for anyone who doesn’t remember, Jeff Gannon was the Bush-era “reporter” who had zero experience yet got White House press credentials….until the softballs he lobbed at Bush were too gratuitous to ignore, at which time people did some research on him and found out that he also operated a web site called “hotmilitarystud.com,” LOL).

So….thoughts? Do you agree more with the feministe take, or BlueGal’s take? Or do you have an altogether different one?