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October 9th, 2009
06:30 AM ET

Avlon: 'Wingnuts' race to the bottom

Editor’s note: John P. Avlon is the author of Independent Nation: How Centrists Can Change American Politics and writes a weekly column for The Daily Beast. Previously, he served as Chief Speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and was a columnist and associate editor for The New York Sun.

[cnn-photo-caption image= http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/10/09/wingnuts.grayson.gohmert.art.jpg caption="Rep. Alan Grayson (L) and Rep. Louie Gohmert (R)."]

With Congress’ approval ratings hitting 21%, according to a new Gallup poll, the polarization and hyper-partisanship is taking a toll. This week we look at two more members of the House of Representatives who’ve been adding fuel to the fire, earning them entry into the Wingnut Hall of Shame: Republican Louie Gohmert and Democrat Alan Grayson.

On the right, Texas Republican Louie Gohmert drew stunned reviews after a rambling speech on the House floor, speaking on the subject of a hate crimes provision attached to a defense bill. Here’s part of what he said:

“If you’re oriented toward animals, bestiality, then that’s not something that could be held against you ... which means that you’d have to strike any laws against bestiality. If you’re oriented toward corpses, toward children. You know, there are all kinds of perversions, what most of us would call perversions, some would say it sounds like fun, but most of us would say were perversions and there have been laws against them and this bill says that whatever you're oriented toward sexually that cannot be a source of bias against someone.”

We’ve heard this riff before from conservatives like Rep. Steve King and Chuck Norris. It’s reaching for slippery-slope legal arguments sure sounds scary – but it’s thoroughly debunked by sources like Politifact – because for, among other reasons, pedophilia, necrophilia and bestiality are criminal acts while gays and lesbians are protected by basic civil rights.

Gohmert’s ramble somehow drew Hitler’s Germany into the conversation – which is an ever-popular wingnut tactic. He also took time to announce that he was not racist because he once voted for Alan Keyes for president – a man most recently seen calling Obama a communist and defending the birthers.

But Gohmert’s been busy developing Hall of Fame Wingnut credentials this year. He’s a co-sponsor of the Birther Bill and waded into the health care debate on 9/11 Truther Alex Jones’ radio show by stating "this socialist health care ... is going to absolutely kill senior citizens. They’ll put them on lists and force them to die early." Stay classy, Louie.

On the left, we have a relative wingnut novice who’s trying to make a name for himself as a liberal bomb-thrower, freshman Florida Congressman Alan Grayson. He echoed Gohmert’s health care death threats from the other side of the aisle in a speech on the House floor in which he said: “The Republican health care plan is this: 'Don't get sick, and if you do get sick, die quickly.'"

It quickly drew fire from one senior Republican as "the most mean-spirited partisan statement that I've ever heard made on this floor.” After being pushed to apologize, Grayson responded by saying "I would like to apologize: I apologize to the dead and their families that we haven't voted sooner to end this holocaust in America." And with the Holocaust metaphor – which he later did genuinely apologize for – we got our wingnut on the left.

But Grayson seems to enjoy the attention that comes with pumping up the outrage. On CNN’s "Situation Room," he attacked Republicans as "foot-dragging, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who think they can dictate policy to America by being stubborn." Somewhere a caveman is crying.

Send in your suggestions for Wingnuts of the Week

What we see in both these folks is the increasing hyper-partisan hysteria emanating from Congress – quick to call your political opponents heartless killers, quick to invoke either Hitler or the Holocaust to score partisan points. It’s cheap and weak and beneath the basic levels of decency we all have a right to expect from our congressmen. What makes it worse is that their partisan allies are quick to defend these outbursts as spirited rather than unhinged. If you’re looking for a good explanation for why there is an increasing anti-incumbent mood out there in America, Congressmen Gohmert and Grayson are prime examples. They are not trying to carve out a new chapter in Profiles in Courage, instead they’re engaged in a race to the bottom.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.


Filed under: Wingnuts of the week
soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Madarr

    Grayson Spoke truth, a rare thing for a democrat to do.
    I am a Republican that feels cheated by having people such as Louie Gohmert in my party.

    Perhaps I will shift my vote towards the green party.

    October 13, 2009 at 12:29 pm |
  2. Rosebud

    You can hardly compare the comments made by Texas Republican Louie Gohmert to those of Florida Congressman Alan Grayson. I personally found Gohmert's comments offensive because he attacked American citizens, where as Grayson attached his fellow congressman (both sides). Do a better job John.

    October 11, 2009 at 10:08 pm |
  3. mike-sey

    America's left is Canada's centre. Blue dog democrats would make it as Conservatives here , but the far right is the same bunch of mean-spirited, puritanical ignoramuses everywhere.

    October 10, 2009 at 8:18 am |
  4. Linda

    How can you compare these two speeches? Rep Grayson, though extreme, said what needed to be said. He was clear, concise and his comments were, unfortunately, firmly based in reality. Rep Gohmert rambled on about legalizing bestiality and necrophilia. No wonder we had 8 years of Bush, Cheney, et al. You and others like you have dumbed it down to the point where you can't even tell the difference between a rational observer and a complete idiot.

    October 9, 2009 at 4:20 pm |
  5. Ken Chambers

    What a ridiculous column. I guess he couldn't write about the flood of nonsense from the Right (death panels, pull the plug on grandma, Obama's hitler, on and on) until some Democrat finally said something equally dramatic. That way he appears fair and balanced, in his own mind, at least. Problem is, at least 18,000 Americans die every year because they don't have insurance. So Grayson's not far off the mark. But the GOP doesn't care about the truth, never have. And being fair and balance should be about the truth.

    October 9, 2009 at 4:16 pm |
  6. NotFooledTX

    There's no comparison between Grayson and Gohmert. Gohmerts comments were ridiculous and delusional – whereas Graysons were spot on. There's just no comparison. The republicans have the corner on wingnuttery – so many to choose from...Gohmert, King, Bachmann, Palin...the list goes on and on – without a lick of truth to their comments. At least Grayson was factually accurate in his comments.

    October 9, 2009 at 3:52 pm |
  7. Casey - California

    Grayson's statement truly summarizes THE INSURANCE CORPORATE STANCE... he has no need to apologize and if I were in the great state of Florida, I'd vote for him.

    Just wish more Californian congressional representatives had the same balls.

    October 9, 2009 at 2:56 pm |
  8. Dave R

    Through Grayson, the Republicans have received a taste of their own medicine. Their reaction only further proves that they can dish it out but, they can't take it.

    Agreed, all of this needs to stop and it needs to begin on the right with their getting rid of those that fail to support the facts on any given issue. Their right dumping Limbaugh and Beck would be a good start.

    October 9, 2009 at 2:44 pm |
  9. Hello Dolly Llama

    Calling Grayson a wingnut is absurd. If you can't tell the difference between wingnuttery , and a long-overdue effort by a Democrat to fight back and tell the truth...then get out of journalism.

    October 9, 2009 at 2:43 pm |
  10. liberal in maine

    Anthem in maine is suing the State over a 18.5 percent rate hike that the state denied. The rate hike was for individual coverages and to maintain a profit margin for the insurance company.

    Anthem, a subsidiary of Wellpoint Inc., argued that beyond simply ‘breaking-even’, the government must guarantee the company a 3% profit:

    Indeed, considering the company’s financial strength and profitability, the “ample evidence” of “extreme financial hardship of subscribers,” and the company’s dominance of the market place (Anthem controls approximately 78% of the market in Maine), the state chose to shield its residents from subsidizing the insurers’ profits. After all, individual plans represent only “about 6.5%” of Anthem’s total revenue from all operations and “for the nine years that Anthem has been in operation in Maine, the pre-tax operating gain — or profit — from its individual line of insurance in the State totaled approximately $17.4 million.” For the year that ended December 31, 2007, Anthem’s total revenue from all operations for the year, “was over $1 billion, and its net income…was over $100 million.”

    October 9, 2009 at 2:33 pm |
  11. bob h

    Good for Grayson. He just said what most of us are thinking.

    October 9, 2009 at 2:07 pm |
  12. Gregory

    I agree with Pauly... Grayson was right except that it's the Health Insurances Corps and Wall St. who want you to die

    October 9, 2009 at 2:06 pm |
  13. bill depp

    Grayson is on the mark, his statements do not qualify as wingnut,
    the simple truth is that Republians have no health care plan so effectively the plan they they do have is to die quickly if you get sick! No where in the Democratic party do you see nut jobs like Michelle Bachmann and Birther supporters like Jeanne Schmidt. The GOP has become the party of the fringe Right, the Tea Party patrol. the Birthers and other wingnut conspiracy theories. They really are no longer aa national party and should not be treated as one.

    October 9, 2009 at 1:54 pm |
  14. Bob Williams

    .In his 1845 novel The Chainbearer, James Fenimore Cooper wrote
    " I hold a family to be in a desperate way, when the mother can see the bottom of the pork barrel." Mother can see more of the bottom each day, and I would personally like to thank the United States Congress and Senate for the aggress behavior, your mothers would be so embarrassed.

    October 9, 2009 at 1:53 pm |
  15. John K

    So it's not OK to call portions of ObamaCare a death panel, but it's OK for Grayson to say the Republican's plan is that if you get sick you should die quickly?

    And as far as Obama winning the Nobel, for what? Improving relations? He has not accomplished a thing yet. And any President who sends more trrops into battle, should not win any "Peace" prize. That is absurd.

    October 9, 2009 at 1:38 pm |
  16. grammarian

    CNN columnists are part of a comfortable class of Americans with health insurance. They don't understand that what Grayson said is largely correct.

    October 9, 2009 at 1:00 pm |
  17. Grog in Ohio

    In an apparent attempt to be "fair and balanced", this feature regularly mixes right wing nuttery with what REAL Americans (pardon me Governor "Thanks But No Thanks") are thinking and saying.

    FYI, Mr. Avlon... it's perfectly legit to note that the right wing nuts have this loon territory exclusively to themselves.

    October 9, 2009 at 12:26 pm |
  18. Peter S

    Don't forget that Mr. Avlon is the guy who used to put those nutty words in the mouth of one of the true wingnuts: Rudy Giuliani, so his selections of wingnuts on the left, like this one, are usually only because someone on the left had the guts to speak up for the truth loudly enough to be heard of the right wing noise. Grayson in the same league as Gohmert, Wilson, Beck and Palin? Come on, John; even you know better.

    October 9, 2009 at 12:16 pm |
  19. valerie

    Alan Grayson is not a wingnut. Democrats were hoping someone would finally stand up to all the slander and lies by the republicans. The republicans will say 50 outragious things, and it's reported like it's fact, and then when a Democrat finally stands up and says one thing in response, he is labled a wingnut.

    October 9, 2009 at 12:14 pm |
  20. Jeffery Barnes

    The system is broken. Now, you can do or say anything, no matter how vile or rude and all you need to do is "apologize"

    October 9, 2009 at 12:09 pm |
  21. Jarod from SAn Diego

    Grayson is just the pointy tip of an upswell of Democrat angst. He's stated what many of us quietly have thought to ourselves. This is what is needed to counter Rush Limbaugh and the Rethugagins party nof no. But I also want to warn the so called Blue Dogs. Those guys seem to be republicans in drag and we will take them down also.

    October 9, 2009 at 11:58 am |
  22. Rick McDaniel

    The behaviors of many people in Washington, are reprehensible.

    One can only wonder what kinds of people live in their districts, that elected them, in the first place.

    October 9, 2009 at 11:51 am |
  23. Ricky ATL

    Im will never vote for a Republican again, simply because they feed into anger and hate... Its sad when when they rejoiced because we didnt get the oplympics... these will be the same people who will be looking for a photo opt for medals brought home.

    October 9, 2009 at 11:33 am |
  24. John

    The media's obsession with trying to find a balance between two viewpoints is comical.

    The midpoint between any two given positions is not automatically the best one. The midpoint between truth and lie is not an honorable position to hold.

    If Grayson hadn't gotten up there, told the truth, and refused to back down, this article would never have been written. These people who've made a fetish out of being a mealy-mouthed centrist would never dare to criticize a Republican if they didn't have something for which they could criticize a Democrat. Calling a spade a spade is "biased" unless you're also calling a spoon a spade.

    Independents and centrists who seek the center for the sake of seeking the center are worthless, and are worse then the furthest right birther wignut. At least a birther has a position, however ridiculous, and they're sticking to that position. A centrist seeks the midpoint between sanity and insanity, between rational and irrational, and calls it sensible. That's as crazy as crazy is, and with less of a justification.

    October 9, 2009 at 11:32 am |
  25. Aaron Seattle

    Sorry, but after everything that Palin, McCain, the GOP, and the idiotic "Tea Party Express" has said, I think Grayson is probably more on the level than the a fore mentioned individuals/organizations.
    This political stalemate, constant childish bantering, and the 24 hour news broadcasting are simply killing this country by pitting everyone against each other.

    How do you know when a society has hit its pinnacle of decadence?! Not sure, but I'm beginning to think it looks something like this.

    October 9, 2009 at 11:30 am |
  26. mike

    Bravo for this column! I'm a registered democrat but what we need is more center and less wingnuts on both sides. I think a lot of the Americans agree on this, but the politicians don't seem to think they can win running on a centrist platform. Very sad.

    October 9, 2009 at 11:10 am |
  27. Melissa

    Grayson wasn't that far off the mark. As for the right, its even worse than was said in this article. They've lost their minds.

    October 9, 2009 at 11:09 am |
  28. Bill

    Grayson may have pushed a teeeeeny tiny bit too far, but he's an Einstein compared to Louie, Glenn Beck and Rush. I personally don't mind seeing the occasional Dem who's willing to respond to these right wing idiots on their own terms. We have plenty of proper Dems who refuse to stoop. And that's great. But America is filled with dumb people and sometimes dumb people get their info out of comic books rather than encyclopedias.

    October 9, 2009 at 11:08 am |
  29. Melissa

    Grayson wasn't that fa off the mark. As for the right, its even worse than was said in this article. They've lost their minds.

    October 9, 2009 at 11:08 am |
  30. Don Deppeller

    I take exception to John Avlon's characterization of Rep. Alan Grayson as a "wingnut". Were it not for true wingnuts, predominantly on the far right, then the kind of sensational hyperbole Grayson (awesomely) exhibited wouldn't be necessary. Grayson was absolutely correct in the follow-up media blitz, which itself occurred because finally someone on the 'Left' had the chutzpah to stand toe-to-toe with the hysterical right-wingnuts, in that it appears to be the only way to deal with the "knuckle-draggers". And he was also very correct in pointing out that most people want a real fighter to stand up for their values, often voting for the GOP simply because the opposition appears as milquetoast handwringers – despite all their rational reasoning. To suggest that tens of millions of us Americans are cheering Grayson on wouldn't be an understatement. Avlon's smugness exemplifies why we are ditching he and his ilk in their corporate opinion-manipulation disseminators called "newspapers". Maybe his new book will buy him a little more time, time he can use to gain some humility to learn the lesson that sometimes it's not a question of "sides", but of right and wrong, correct or simply.....stupid.

    October 9, 2009 at 10:35 am |
  31. Fran

    Grayson was right on!!!

    October 9, 2009 at 10:18 am |
  32. Tina

    Mr. Grayson, REALLY??? A man who has, finally, stood up to the Republicans, a party of no...... Someone who has the guts, which some of you in the media, said there is lack of in the Democratic party..... There has been a "deer in the headlights" mentality of some Democratic politicians, when it came to dealing with the town hall screamers. Many, of which, were misinformed. What he said is essentially the truth..... People, who are only concerned with their bottom line, as opposed to, genuine health care options (CHOICE). This Health Care bill under consideration, does nothing, but aid the Insurers... It offers no choice or accountability of the private insurers..... What happens a year from now when Harvard does another study, as to how many deaths has resulted in lack of health insurance. Unemployment numbers WILL be a factor. Or does that matter? Ignoring this is irresponsible!!!!
    But, hey, I have got another nomination for you!!! How about Floyd Brown, of the Web site WorldNetDaily.com? This radical fringe nut-job and his website, incites racism and fear mongering at the base. GOP.com is aligned with this website.... Makes you wonder, if it is only the fringe. What makes Mr. Brown SCARY is, he has ties (strategist) with past Republican campaigns.
    You go git em, Mr. Grayson!!!

    October 9, 2009 at 9:54 am |
  33. Carl

    It's interesting that right-wingnuts can scream the most insane absurdities for years, and you'll wait for one mildly questionable leftist comment before you'll point out that there's nuts on both sides.

    October 9, 2009 at 8:08 am |
  34. JohnO

    I vote for Rush Limbaugh as wingnut of the decade!

    October 9, 2009 at 7:56 am |
  35. Lesa

    I think its a good thing that our president has won the nobel peace prize. While the media and others alike always seems to harp on the negative things trying to make the prisdent look bad .Its shameful and disgraceful. Its funny how bush was in office and messed up the whole dame world, no one complained as much as you are now. We have a great president now, all should embrace the fact that he is really trying to undo the desasters that this negative and greedy person name bush has made. He was very disfunctional and evil.

    So why when anyone, or even any other country say something good about President Obama, you always come back with something so negative. I get it and you know I do and so does everyone else.

    President Obama deserves the nobel peace prize and I am happy he was chosen. And may all glory be to God for giving us President Obama.

    I know my mail won't be televised it never is. Simply because I speak the truth.

    October 9, 2009 at 7:42 am |
  36. Margaret

    It is a great thing for President Obama to be seleced as a Nobel Prize winner. Its to sad and ugly of America to criticize this man no matter what he does. It concludes one major thing..yes that is hatred right there on the tv screen. The President deserves this...so stand up and give the applauds

    October 9, 2009 at 7:30 am |
  37. bjflanders

    good for you grayson, let the boys in dc know how the people

    without big money feel.

    October 9, 2009 at 7:19 am |
  38. Pauly

    Rep Grayson wasn't that far off w/ his comment. Republicans, and some Democrats, are supporting the insurance co's who have contributed many dollars to their campaigns. These same insurance co's are denying life saving procedures to Americans. Once someone becomes chronically ill, they seek out ways to deny them treatments they paid for. There is no profit in paying out claims. It is their policy that you shouldn't get sick & if you do, die quickly. They don't want anyone's sickness to carry on & eat up any of their profits. For all the millions these co's are spending to defeat health care reform, you can expect many more Americans to have their policies cancelled or their treatment denied. Since Repubs are protecting these insurance co's, they are supporting these acts. Get into an auto accident & watch your rated skyrocket or your policy get cancelled. File a claim on your homeowner's insurance & many times you will see the same actions. Look at what happened after the hurricanes from a few years ago. If you become chronically ill, you will find yourself fighting tooth & nail for the benefits you paid for. Don't get sick. If you do die quickly.

    October 9, 2009 at 7:00 am |