My expectations for Congressman Parker Griffith (D, AL-05) were low to begin with, but 8 months into the job he's under-performing in a big way. I was resigned to another Bud Cramer style Blue Dog -- hopefully without the inheritance tax obsession -- but Griffith is now badmouthing other Democrats on a regular basis, something I don't ever recall from Bud Cramer. In fact, Cramer made a career of saying very little in public, most of that related to issues affecting the local economy -- common ground for his constituents. Amazingly, I wish Griffith would behave more like Bud Cramer did. Yes, it's really that bad.
Obviously, Griffith is dealing with difficult crowds at these town hall meetings. According to the Huntsville Times report of yesterday's Town Hall in Athens, a man was "booed back to his seat" after saying he considered President Barack Obama a Christian for wanting to help the poor. Not easy people to talk to, I get that. But tense situations call for careful rhetoric and Griffith's recent statements about Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D, CA) are anything but careful. First it was the ego comment a few days ago:
"Nancy Pelosi's ego and (President Barack) Obama's ego and Waxman's ego are all involved."
At the same time said he didn't regret voting for Pelosi as Speaker "though I'd have a difficult time voting for her now."
A few days later in Florence he took credit for stopping health care reform ...
"Conservatives could not have stopped this (health care reform) bill (from coming to the floor for a vote)," he said, adding that only the conservative arm of the Democratic Party - the Blue Dogs, of which he is a member - could.
... dissed both Pelosi and mental health patients ...
Griffith laughed and said, "If she doesn't like it, I've got a gift certificate to the mental health center."
... and reiterated that he would no longer vote for Pelosi as Speaker ...
Griffith said that if matter came up for a vote today, "I would not vote for her. Someone that divisive and that polarizing cannot bring us together."
The newspaper story doesn't include this, but a friend who attended yesterday's town hall in Athens says ...
During the town hall, Griffith said (at least twice) that he will not be voting for Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House again.
How's that going to work, Congressman? Is she planning to retire? Are you? Or are you planning to abstain? I'd love to know.
My friend also related an interesting exchange between Griffith and a woman with a question about government involvement in health care.
She said that she understands he is against government-run healthcare. She then asked him if that meant he was planning to work to dismantle Medicare and the VA system? That seemed to fluster him. He talked around it, but she kept asking him to answer the question. The crowd was mostly quiet during this ...
Excellent question, although technically Medicare is government run insurance which is distinct from government run health care (which the VA is.) It would have been a great opportunity to explain to the crowd that Medicare has very low overhead compared to private insurers, in part because they don't spend millions on advertising and executive bonuses. I guess that wouldn't have fit with the right wing talking points he's decided to push.
According to the paper, Griffith also took the obligatory swipe at illegal immigrants and evil trial lawyers yesterday. I wonder if he's noticed that malpractice claims have been steady in recent years but malpractice premiums have continued to rise -- maybe the insurance industry ought to come in for some criticism?
Griffith outlined his vision for health care reform as having no government insurance, shutting down the borders to curb illegal immigrants so that emergency rooms wouldn't have a continuous flow of non-paying customers, increasing medical school slots for qualified students and tort reform to allay doctors' fears of lawsuits and thereby reduce the number of unnecessary tests and procedures.
When some of the testier speakers accused him of partisanship, the congressman said there was plenty of blame to go around, reminding them that Republican President George W. Bush was responsible for the multibillion-dollar Wall Street bailout.
"The left-wing crazies are as crazy as the right-wing crazies," he said. "America works best in the middle of the road."
I always heard "the only thing in the middle of the road is a white line and a dead armadillo." It's a no place for a Congressman.
Political parties are teams, not unlike sports teams. Nothing is served by trash talking your teammates in public. Quite the opposite, in fact. The common (economic) interest of Alabama's 5th district has a lot to lose if Parker Griffith turns himself into the team outcast. The Republicans damned sure aren't in any position to help him -- and wouldn't lift a finger even if they were.