Why the Left Sucks at Trolling

Alan Grayson trash-talks as well as a tea-party Republican. But his progressive colleagues would rather take a high road (and sit on the sideline).

US Democratic Representative from Florida Alan Grayson speaks as people protest against a US military intervention in Syria in front of the Cannon House Office Building near the US Capitol in Washington on September 9, 2013. US Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he is delaying a key vote on authorizing the use of force in Syria to let President Barack Obama publicly address the issue. Earlier in the day, the top Obama ally in Congress had scheduled the crucial test vote for Wednesday but then backtracked to let the US leader sell his plan on strikes against the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. 
National Journal
Ben Terris
Nov. 4, 2013, 7 a.m.

Rep. Alan Grayson has been get­ting nasty emails lately. He’s been called a “Jew-boy” and also a “Ger­man Nazi.” One per­son said he was “lower than whale dung” while an­oth­er writer went with “lower than snail scum.” And of course he was told to burn in hell.

He’s not al­to­geth­er sur­prised. He knows this is what hap­pens when you head-butt a hor­nets’ nest, as he did earli­er this month by send­ing out an email equat­ing the tea party to the Ku Klux Klan. The email — com­plete with a donate but­ton at the bot­tom — in­cluded a pic­ture of a burn­ing cross as the “t” in “tea party.”

And it wasn’t just In­ter­net trolls or even just the Right that got riled up. Sen. Claire Mc­Caskill, D-Mo., con­demned the email; head of the Demo­crat­ic Na­tion­al Com­mit­tee Rep. Debbie Wasser­man Shultz of Flor­ida said she was “dis­ap­poin­ted” by it; and no Demo­crats in Con­gress have said pub­licly they sup­port the rhet­or­ic or im­agery.

“I just don’t get it,” said Grayson, wear­ing a mul­ti­colored tie dot­ted with peace signs. “The concept that we should some­how cen­sor ourselves from do­ing any­thing con­tro­ver­sial, when you’re talk­ing about a mat­ter of ex­treme pub­lic con­cern that’s as ser­i­ous as ra­cism, strikes me as be­ing hope­lessly naïve.”

This isn’t Grayson’s first brush with con­tro­versy. He’s a guy who once labeled his op­pon­ent Rep. Dan Web­ster “Taliban Dan,” and re­cently took to the House floor to re­mind every­one that Con­gress was less pop­u­lar than dog poop.

And he’s clearly not back­ing down from his KKK email, say­ing in a state­ment that “if the hood fits….” He said he found it “un­for­tu­nate” that the pres­id­ent has “shown no in­terest in hav­ing this dis­cus­sion” about the tea party’s al­leged ra­cism.

For this type of be­ha­vi­or, it’s easy to la­bel Grayson as the Left’s equi­val­ent of a tea-party con­gress­man. (Re­mem­ber Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., com­par­ing Pres­id­ent Obama to Hitler?) But the prob­lem for Grayson is, without a cadre of equally re­cal­cit­rant col­leagues, he has the bark, but not the bite of his Re­pub­lic­an coun­ter­parts.

Say what you want about the risks, con­ser­vat­ives have man­aged to fight tooth and nail for what they be­lieved in, and have in a lot of ways wrestled the con­ver­sa­tion in­to their terms. Sure, Re­pub­lic­ans have yet to har­poon their white whale of des­troy­ing Obama­care, but they’ve man­aged to take every pro­gress­ive agenda item — from single-pay­er health care to end­ing the se­quester — en­tirely out of dis­cus­sion dur­ing the last round of fight­ing.

And that’s why con­ser­vat­ives are win­ning on policy.

“We don’t have a path­way to pro­gress­ive fanta­sy­land,” con­cluded Rep. Keith El­lis­on, D-Minn., the chair­man of the Pro­gress­ive Caucus. “We’re prob­ably not go­ing to get ar­res­ted on the Cap­it­ol lawn in fa­vor of single-pay­er in the next three weeks.”

Why is it, in the words of con­gres­sion­al schol­ar Norm Orn­stein, that the “more rad­ic­al wing of the Re­pub­lic­an Party holds the cen­ter of grav­ity and the rad­ic­al wing of the Demo­crat­ic Party is just an ap­pend­age and not a sig­ni­fic­ant force”?

Orn­stein thinks that for Re­pub­lic­ans, it’s about feel­ing the un­der­dog as a minor­ity party in Wash­ing­ton. It doesn’t help that tea-party-linked law­makers also ap­pear to live in a right-wing echo cham­ber.

And if Demo­crats fol­low suit, at least in rhet­or­ic if not in tac­tics? “I do worry that the Ted Cruzes of the world will en­cour­age a more rad­ic­al Left to emerge,” he said. “I think that will just weak­en the le­git­im­acy of the cen­ter left of the Demo­crat­ic side.”

He doesn’t have much to worry about on that front. While Grayson might be provid­ing some over-the-top dis­course, no one is push­ing rad­ic­al ne­go­ti­at­ing tac­tics.

Asked if this risk-averse men­tal­ity among pro­gress­ives cedes ne­go­ti­at­ing lever­age to the Re­pub­lic­ans, El­lis­on seemed stumped. “That’s something for me to really think about,” he replied. “Maybe stra­tegic­ally we should be fight­ing for single pay­er.”

And yet, it’s very hard to ima­gine Demo­crats suc­cess­fully em­ploy­ing the same tac­tics as the tea party go­ing for­ward. (Just try to ima­gine 80 Demo­crats sign­ing a let­ter say­ing they won’t vote for any budget deal un­less there is a tax in­crease.)

Even Grayson says he isn’t in­ter­ested in that type of gov­ernance.

“Many pro­gress­ives didn’t feel like we should en­gage in that kind of black­mail,” he said. “I guess it is prob­ably true that the Left has less of a taste for chaos than the Right. I’m not sure that’s a bad thing at all.”

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