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Grayson: Democratic Party Must Stand for Something

Former Congressman Alan Grayson, who is running again for a House seat in 2012, criticized the Democratic leadership in a discussion in Los Angeles this weekend, saying that they don’t understand the basic concept that voters need something to vote for.

Grayson, speaking at the offices of the progressive filmmaking organization Brave New Films in Culver City, responded to a DCCC video featuring some of the candidates they’ve recruited in their bid to take back the House for the Democrats in 2012. All of the candidates featured in a video put out by the DCCC downplayed any issues, with DCCC Chair Steve Israel commenting proudly, “they’re problem solvers, not ideologues.”

“I think that politics needs to be about something,” said Grayson, the often fiery candidate who shook up Washington in 2009 and 2010. “It needs to be about something more than ‘I believe in America.’ I don’t think what I see from the DCCC had any understanding of that principle.” He also cited the case of Bobby Bright, a Blue Dog Democrat who ran ads in 2010 touting the fact that he voted with John Boehner 80% of the time. He received lots of financial support from the DCCC, and it didn’t matter. He lost big anyway. “To quote Winston Churchill, ‘there’s no theme to this pudding,'” said Grayson.

Grayson is still listed on all of the DCCC sheets touting candidates for their efforts to take back the House. Though there are no Congressional maps for Florida yet, expectations are high that the city of Orlando, which Grayson represented, will be split into two districts, one a Democratic seat and one a Republican seat. The seat Grayson represented was a swing seat in 2008 when he won it.

However, one of the candidates profiled in that DCCC video, someone who attended the recent training session, is Val Demings, a former Orlando chief of police, who says she is running in the same district that Grayson represented in 2009-2010, FL-08. Grayson was not at the training session. He said that “I work for a living” and that he had a scheduling conflict that prevented him from attending, even though he received an invite. According to Grayson, Demings has been telling everyone that she will run against Daniel Webster for the more conservative district in Orlando. But it doesn’t make a lot of sense that she would opt for the more difficult race. “If she spends months after months telling people that she’s running against Daniel Webster, and then she runs against Alan Grayson, that’s going to be a problem,” Grayson said. He added that Demings attended the retreat because “she needed to go.”

Grayson said that he recently attended an annual meeting for the Florida Democratic Party recently, and he spoke at the Progressive Caucus, the first of its kind in Florida. The major discussion at the event, he said, was over whether to have a party platform. In the end, party leaders established a committee to make a recommendation on whether to have a platform. This is indicative of Democrats’ struggles with providing tangible promises to voters that will make a difference in their lives. “I don’t think Democrats can win if they don’t stand for anything,” Grayson said, ticking off a list of issues (environmental policy, jobs, foreign policy) where he couldn’t articulate a Democratic agenda. He narrowed down the Democratic platform to three words: “Justice, Equality, Peace.”

The solution to this situation, with formless candidates who don’t represent a progressive agenda getting into Congress as Democrats, according to Grayson, was to provide “litmus tests” and enforce discipline on members who don’t support core values. “We have to elect people who will do something for us,” Grayson said. “Read the 1960, 1964, 1968 platforms. They were substantive, they promised people meaningful things. That has gone out of style. I don’t think it’s asking too much that the party stands for something.”

Asked by one attendee whether some candidates – like Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson – need to be cut more slack because they represent a conservative area – Grayson replied, “I think Ben Nelson’s kidding himself. Nobody held it against me that I voted a lot with the Democrats. They expected it! The notion that you gain street cred if you vote against your own party is nonsense. It’s like voting for a traitor.” There’s some political science evidence to back up this claim. Political ideology just doesn’t matter very much in elections, something on the order of 1-2% of the vote. And 28 out of the 54 Blue Dogs lost their elections in 2010, despite their pretensions to “moderate” bona fides.

Grayson praised the Occupy movement as getting the nation “back to the subject we should be talking about,” namely jobs and the economy. “What we talk about is the primary determinant of what happens. You don’t hear anyone talk about global warming anymore. That’s why you shouldn’t expect to get anything done on global warming.”

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David Dayen

David Dayen