Will: America’s Worst Politician

Rep. Alan Grayson at a press conference. Bill Clark / Newsom

ORLANDO—There are hundreds of plausible nominees for the title of America’s Second-Smarmiest Politician, but surely the top spot is un-contested. Americans of all political persuasions can come together in affirming one proposition: Public life would be improved by scrubbing Rep. Alan Grayson from it. This act of civic hygiene probably will be performed Nov. 2 by voters of Florida’s Eighth Congressional District. Polls indicate that a majority of them plan to deny Grayson, 52, a second term by electing his resonantly named opponent, Daniel Webster.

Grayson, never missing an opportunity to live down to his reputation, ridicules Webster’s “18th-century name.” Given Grayson’s relentless advertising of his intellectual shortcomings, it is surprising that he recognizes the name.

Grayson’s preferred name for Webster—he used it in an ad—is “Taliban Dan.” Grayson’s idea that whatever rhymes is witty is sophomoric. His innuendo is worse. Consider:

Webster, 61, the third-generation manager of his family’s air-conditioning business, served in Florida’s legislature for 28 years, becoming the first Republican speaker of the state House in 122 years—since Reconstruction—then serving in the state Senate until retired by term limits two years ago. A devout Christian who home-schooled his six children, in 2009 he addressed a religious conference of men in Nashville on the subject of how to be a good husband. Concerning relations with their wives, he urged the men not to focus on biblical verses that enjoin wives to be submissive: “Don’t pick the ones that say, ‘She should submit to me.’ That’s in the Bible, but pick the ones that you’re supposed to do. So instead, ‘Love your wife, even as Christ loved the church he gave himself for it’ as opposed to, ‘Wives, submit yourself to your own husband.’ ”

Grayson sliced and spliced a videotape of Webster’s words to depict Webster as saying, “She should submit to me. That’s in the Bible.” When asked about his lie-by-editing, Grayson blithely said, “These were his words.” Grayson’s ad says: “Religious fanatics try to take away our freedom in Afghanistan, in Iran, and right here in central Florida…Daniel Webster wants to impose his radical fundamentalism on us.” Hence “Taliban Dan.”

In another ad, titled “Draft Dodger,” Grayson, who never served in the military, falsely says that during the Vietnam War Webster “refused the call to service” and “doesn’t love this country.” The truth is that Webster, after receiving routine student deferments, reported for his draft physical but was classified as medically unfit for service.

Grayson’s rhetorical style is schoolyard crude. He has said, “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.” He has compared Republicans to “knuckle-dragging Neanderthals” and Nazis burning the Reichstag. He has said, “I have trouble listening to what [Dick Cheney] says sometimes because of the blood that drips from his teeth while he’s talking.” He has referred to a high-ranking woman official at the Federal Reserve as a “K Street whore.”

Pity Florida. Like Grayson, Gov. Charlie Crist, a political contortionist of astonishing flexibility, has become a political sociopath. To rehearse his year of living ludicrously:

When seeking the Republican nomination for senator, he described himself as “a true-blue Reaganite Republican” and initially had a 30-point lead over his challenger, Marco Rubio, former speaker of the state House of Representatives. Rubio argued that Crist was not really a conservative and, when Rubio surged to a 30-point lead, Crist decided that he was not even a Republican. He began running as an independent, sprinting away from his previously held positions on a variety of issues, from education to marriage, and health care to taxes.

Crist has run an ad against Rubio featuring a headline “IRS Investigating Rubio Expenditures” and attributing the headline to National Review magazine, in an obvious attempt to injure Rubio with conservatives. But National Review Online—not the magazine—had merely quoted the St. Petersburg Times’s headline and the Rubio campaign’s response. The supposed investigation went nowhere.

Crist’s mendacity is mild compared with Grayson’s paltering with the truth, but one wonders: Do Florida broadcasters exercise any quality control over the political advertisements they air?

The vulgarity of Grayson’s brief congressional career validates the axiom that there is unseemly exposure of mind as well as of body. Concerning his nonstop anger, whether real or feigned, remember: “Anger is not an argument.” So said Sen. Daniel Webster (1782–1852).

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