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Sure, Alan Grayson has a spine. But does he have a brain and a heart?

[Cross-posted to OpenLeft. Feel free to add comments over there, too. --lambert]

The blogosphere is all atwitter over Alan Grayson's powerful rhetoric on health care insurance reform -- and don't get me wrong, I'm all for effective rhetoric.* Grayson said:

44,789 Americans die every year according to the Harvard study. and you can see it by going to our website at That is 10 times more than the number of Americans who have died in Iraq and who died in 9/11. but that was just once. this is every single year. That's right. every single year.

Take a look at this. Read it and weep. And I mean that, read it and weep, because of all these Americans who are dying because they don't have health insurance. Now, I think we should do something about that and the democratic health care plan does do something about that. It makes health care affordable for those who can't afford insurance and it saves these peoples' lives.

Leave aside the fact that co-authors of Harvard study Grayson cites are single payer advocates; we're used to the public option crowd stealing the good stuff. The more the merrier!

What really gets me is that Grayson's wrong on one very obvious and important fact:

Nobody ever died for lack of health insurance. Not one single person. Not one. People die for lack of health care. Did Grayson really have his brain engaged when he made that claim?

Single payer is designed to deliver health care, as a right. Health insurance companies are designed to deny care, because it's their fiduciary responsibility to do so; it's always going to be more profitable to collect the premiums, and deny care, than to pay out. (And that's before we even get to information asymmetry and market failure.) Grayson wants to take the rhetoric of rights-based single payer advocacy, and marry it to a market-based milk-and-water fix for health insurance, but that circle can't be squared. Na ga happen.

Underneath the fearsome rhetoric on the Holocaust, Grayson -- just like the Dem leadership -- refuses to even consider draining the moral cesspool of health care for profit. In fact, he wants to keep the cesspool brim full by guaranteeing the insurance companies a market: forever. That's what the mandate does, and that's why the mandate is a bailout. Did Grayson really have his heart on-line when he advocated for that policy?

Can Grayson really imagine that he can end the Holocaust -- his word -- by regulating the guards and lowering the temperatures in the furnace?

* * *

So, forgive my failure to even think about the need to still my racing pulse on this one. There's no evidence whatever that HR3200, HELP, the Senate Finance Plan, or the Obama "plan" (wev) will save any money, or any lives. That's because they are, one and all, unproven Rube Goldberg-esque devices that are untried on the national scale. And there's plenty of evidence that single payer will do both -- which is precisely why Versailles took it off the table.

Roaring like a lion and delivering like a mouse is par for the course with career liberals, and has been for years. I'd like to think Grayson's different, but the evidence isn't on offer in this speech.

NOTE I cleaned up the transcript, which was a little light on capitals.

NOTE * I just happen to think that the truth is the best rhetoric. Doesn't take any highly paid strategerists to advocate for it, either. It's really the only way forward.

NOTE ** Leave aside the fact that co-authors of Harvard study Grayson cites are single payer advocates. None of the other public option advocates do, so why should Grayson?

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selise's picture
Submitted by selise on

grayson raised over a hundred thousand dollars with that stunt.

i thought it was great. had me cheering when i heard his "apology" live from the house floor. but until grayson signs on to support hr 676 or some other bill that provides for universal healthcare, it was still just theater. as i wrote over at OL, supporting only legislation that leaves millions without healthcare and continues to condemn thousands to death each year is not good enough.

chicago dyke's picture
Submitted by chicago dyke on

Emotional Me loves good theatre, and to me the best part of it is watching grayson bring out the extra strength stupid on the part of the bobbleheads, who look particularly unappealing in these exchanges. i enjoy a good public slapping down like the next red blooded amurkin.

Serious Me agrees with most of the points made in the comments and the original post. it's Do not Tell time, yo. but i'll say that grayson can impress me by not spending the money he just raised by giving it to the SCLM. i hope he hires 100 unemployed people in his district to canvass with that money, do something legal but that would elevate the economically troubled. that's a silly DFH pipe dream, i know. but as a progressive, i watch carefully where my limited dollars go and how they get spent. i don't pay for the SCLM in any way if i can help it.

BDBlue's picture
Submitted by BDBlue on

was John Caruso at Tiny Revolution who agreed with Grayson except for two corrections:

1) Republicans don't want you to die quickly, they want you to die profitably, and

2) It isn't just Republicans.

Grayson's ploy is very good at highlighting how little the GOP has to offer on healthcare. That's true. It's just too bad that, in doing so, he's essentially concealing the fact the Dems aren't offering much, if anything, more.

I like Grayson and guys like him and Weiner show that Democrats can actually play politics, which is good. But it's better when it's done for good policy, like Weiner is doing. Because then it has a purpose beyond simply gaining one group of elites more "wins" than the other while the rest of us lose.

Submitted by lambert on

That the OL crowd are going for (Stoller's boss) Grayson instead of the far more substantive Weiner is telling. I just hope it doesn't induce Weiner to figure that bullshit sells, and go there.

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

I agree completely, lambert, that no one dies for lack of health insurance per se. And I agree completely with the implication that the solution to the current situation lies in providing everyone access to health care, not in some "health insurance" reform.

But, to be fair to Rep. Alan Grayson, the study [PDF] [emphasis added] says this:

we calculated approximately 44789 deaths among Americans
aged 18 to 64 years in 2005 associated with lack of health insurance.

So, I'm not sure I want to criticize Grayson too strongly on that particular ground.

I found the hoopla over Grayson's rhetoric a bit disconcerting—mostly because it treats what's pretty much common sense as extraordinary and exemplary, even if in the current degraded state of our politics it seems extraordinary and exemplary (it's the difference between "Wow, Grayson, amazing!" and "OK, yeah, we've heard from Grayson, now why aren't the rest of you clowns doing anything like that?"). And, like you and other commenters here, I think it would be far better if he were advocating for better policy (i.e., single payer) and not concealing, as BDBlue said, the fact the Dems aren't offering much, if anything, more than the Republicans.

quixote's picture
Submitted by quixote on

Grayson was talking about holocaust, small "h," i.e. a massive disaster that kills many people. That's what the word means. That's also why I've always wished that when Americans decided on a word for the WWII horrors, they'd used "Shoah" like the Israelis. It's Hebrew for annihilation.

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

Although the term Holocaust as applied to the genocide of six million Jews in Europe might have even had a Jewish origin (as a (mis)translation of the word shoah in a booklet from United Aid Committee for the Jews in Poland in 1940), I've never been able to quite shake this Christianized view of the term from James Carroll's Constantine's Sword: The Church and the Jews—A History:

Even when the cross of Jesus Christ is planted at Auschwitz as a sign of Christian atonement for that hatred, and not of anti-Jewish accusation, the problem remains. By associating the Jewish dead with a Christian notion of redemption, are the desperate and despised victims of the Nazis thus transformed into martyrs whose fate could seem not only meaningful but privileged? What Jew would not be suspicious of a Christian impulse to introduce that category, martyrdom, into the story of the genocide? Jews as figures of suffering—negation, denial, hatred, guilt—are at the center of this long history, although always, until now, their suffering was proof of God's rejection of them. Is Jewish suffering now to be taken as a sign of God's approval? Golgotha of the modern world—does that mean real Jews have replaced Jesus as the sacrificial offering, their deaths as the source of universal salvation? Does this Jew-friendly soteriology turn full circle into a new rationale for the Final Solution?

Uneasiness with such associations have prompted some Jews to reject the very word "holocaust" as applied to the genocide, since in Greek it means "burnt offering." When the genocide is instead referred to as the Shoah, a Hebrew word meaning "catastrophe," a wall is being erected against the consolations and insults of a redemptive, sacrificial theology of salvation. Shoah, in its biblical usage, points to the absence of God's creative hovering, the opposite of which is rendered as "ruach." Ruach is the breath of God, which in Genesis drew order out of chaos. Shoah is its undoing.

After reading that, I've always preferred the word Shoah also.

And, for the record, I did appreciate lambert's careful bracketing "—his term—" of Grayson's usage, however Grayson intended it..

Submitted by lambert on

I noted that the original sourcing had casing problems -- it looks like the transcriber used lower case for everything.

I think that the word "[h|H]olocaust, particularly in a context where people are caught up in a system of industrialized killing, can only be meant to connote the Holocaust. The distinction, I suppose, from the systemic perspective, is that the Nazi Holocaust was driven by hate and greed, and the health insurance companies' is driven merely by greed.

Another way of saying this is that I accept the moral dimension of Grayson's indictment without reservation. The insurance companies are killing people for money. However, Grayson's policy reommendation is completely at odds with the original indictment. That is, no doubt, precisely why it is so attractive to our tribunes of the people on the A list.

Jeff W's picture
Submitted by Jeff W on

Over the course of, well, today, I realized I could go with Holocaust as referring to the specific industrialized killing of the Nazis during World War II (even though I'm not keen on the term) and holocaust as meaning some general mass slaughter. (After all, there are distinctions between internet and Internet, catholic and Catholic, democratic and Democratic, etc.) Of course, in the case of a transcription, with casing problems, who knows what's meant? But your observation about the word connoting the Holocaust is more sophisticated and better. I guess I'd say the distinction is that the death in the Nazi Holocaust was the desired result; the deaths brought about by insurance companies are an unavoidable byproduct of their actions—if the insurance companies could keep people paying premiums alive longer and still not pay for care, they undoubtedly would.

I just tossed in that long excerpt from Carroll's book because it sort of affected my personal feeling towards the term Holocaust (it makes me cringe a little because of the "redemptive" association Carroll made), even though it's admittedly an idiosyncratic, arcane view, and, in any event, I thought it was interesting.

I agree with your comment, lambert, regarding the moral dimension of Rep. Grayson's indictment that arises from using that word. It's not a whole lot different than Grayson's blunt assertion that Republicans' health care plan is to "die quickly." That is the logical result of the GOP position, which is why they're so exorcised over it. (President Franklin Roosevelt in his 1936 Madison Square Garden speech said something similar: "Their solution for the relief problem is to end relief—to purge the rolls by starvation," and I can't imagine the Republicans then nattering on about FDR apologizing. Everyone's so sensitive nowadays, like schoolkids.) It's frustrating that his policy proposal is at odds with the indictment but maybe, having framed (!) the debate in the starkest terms, Grayson's take (and that of others) on the policy will shift—but I'm not too hopeful.

Submitted by gob on

via the Rude Pundit:

Yesterday, on The Situation Room with Wolf "Bow Down Before the Sartorial Magnificence of My Beard" Blitzer, the gathered CNN superfriends couldn't comprehend Grayson, as if anger and honesty coming from a Democrat is some unknown species of rhetoric. "They should apologize to America," Grayson said of Republicans calling for him to beg forgiveness. He may as well have said, "Suck my balls."

[my emphasis]

I admit I've been ignoring all this, only just now getting my jollies from Grayson's excellent rhetoric. But my jollies aren't the real point - this is a hell of a lot better than some stinkin' "framing"! If we could have a little more anger and honesty like this out of the Dems, "real Americans" (whoever they are) might start believing that they mean what they say and are actually worth paying attention to.

hobson's picture
Submitted by hobson on

I'm with Gob and bdblue on this. I don't think we can get good policy until Dems start shoving it back in Republican's faces. What drives me crazy is all the rhetoric in the media about the health care "debate." I am pissed when Schumer and Harkin get their clocks cleaned but I hear Harkin saying Republicans must be included in health care reform. We know they have no intention of being part of health care or insurance reform.

I may be remembering this incorrectly but in the '93 debate, I remember a Repulican bringing a scale to the Senate and showing how the Dem bill weighed something like 28 lbs. As I remember, George Mitchell asked to borrow the scale. Then he pointed to the empty scale and said something like, "Here is the Republican proposal for health care reform. It weighs nothing because there is no proposal." (Yah, I know, we lost that one.)

I think it serves a purpose to point out in a visceral way that Republicans are not the party of opposition but only the party of obstruction regardless of the consequences for the country. And as Digby points out, ridiculing them for "hissy fits", or as bestofbothworlds calls it, their "quest for outrage."

hobson's picture
Submitted by hobson on

bdblue, you mention Wiener being better on policy than Grayson. I am wondering about the vote on single payer he got out of Pelosi. When does it happen? Is it on 676? What is the purpose?

He says he knows there are not 218 votes to be had. It is being referred to as an up or down vote on single payer. Does that mean when it loses the Dems will be able to say they gave single payer a chance and it failed so forget it?

I have heard Wiener talk about it several times on the radio but I am not clear on what he hopes to accomplish. He even made reference to hoping he would get some Republicans to vote for it to cause mischief. What does that mean?

Should people on the left be doing more to publicize it, support it, the vote I mean? I don't seem to see much talk about it at all.

Submitted by hipparchia on

corrente has cheered on [frequently] anthony weiner and his plan for substituting hr for 676 for hr 3200 and has often asked people to call their congresscritters in support of this.

it seems that weiner may now be looking at substituting dingell's hr 15 instead, which would not be my first choice. either way, his office is apparently being careful on what they say about his plans for now, so i'm reluctant to do any more cheerleading for him until something happens in public.

meanwhile, i do what i can irl to [1] promote interest in hr 676, and [2] stop "health insurance reform" from happening this year.