If you’re running for U.S. Senate on a populist progressive platform, it’s probably not a good idea to preside over a hedge fund, a high-risk speculative financial instrument, designed to serve the greed of the one percent, that is often destructive to the overall economy. But that’s just what Representative Alan Grayson of Florida has done, generating an ethics cloud that darkens any room he enters.
During the 2009 race-baited GOP hate-war against the legislation that would create Obamacare, Grayson, then a little-known back-bencher, uttered this in a floor speech: “If you get sick, America, the Republican health-care plan is this: Die quickly.”
I kind of loved him for that, and so did a lot of progressives. Grayson was soon a populist hero, popping up all over MSNBC and progressive radio.
In moments such as the brutal war of words over the Affordable Care Act—a war tinged with racial slurs and fueled by Tea Party rage—there’s great satisfaction when a member of the political class, who’s on your side, speaks plainly and aggressively, pulling no punches. Yeah! You tell ’em! Our inclination, then, is to lionize the pugilist.
Progressive frustration with the leadership of the Democratic Party in this critical election year is both palpable and well-earned. Democratic National Committee Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, also a member of Congress from Florida, has done little to allay concerns that she’s skewed the presidential primary battle in favor of the Clinton campaign, and at the expense of Bernie Sanders’s upstart bid.
In the Florida U.S. Senate primary race, Grayson faces Representative Patrick Murphy, hand-picked by party leaders and described as a moderate. Grayson currently has an edge in the polls.
As much as I would like to see another progressive Democrat in the elite club of the upper chamber, Alan Grayson is not that guy. He’s a ticking timebomb and something of a fraud; a fire-breather whose greatest asset—his big mouth—is also his greatest liability. In the end, his candidacy represents a high-risk venture for the progressive movement, of the sort that only a hedge fund manager could love.
On February 11, The New York Times published a chilling report on Grayson’s enterprise, the Sibylline Fund (formerly known as the Grayson Fund, until a complaint against him was lodged with the House Ethics Committee in July), revealing a truly callous heart under Grayson’s progressive badge. From the Times article by Eric Lipton:
Interviews and the documents show that Mr. Grayson told potential investors in his hedge fund that they should contribute money to the fund to capitalize on the unrest he observed around the world, and to take particular advantage when there was “blood in the streets.”
The fund, the Times reported, carries $16.4 million in assets; its investors numbered four participants. (Grayson says he has since return the investments of two of those members, leaving only himself and a family trust as participants.) At issue is not just the management fees Grayson collected from his investors while serving in Congress, but whether he used his position as a congressman to generate business for the fund.
The day after the Times investigation was published, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid called on Grayson to drop his Senate bid, issuing a statement in which he claimed that the vituperative Floridian “has no moral compass.”
Grayson promptly tried to turn the matter into one of the big, mean party picking on poor, little, progressive him. He couldn’t resist taking a swipe at Reid for the loss of the Senate to the Republicans in 2014, as if the Koch brothers and their network didn’t exist.
For progressives, the Grayson story isn’t simply about the man and his investments; it’s about who we choose to throw in behind.
Not long after Grayson became a lefty hero for his floor speech on the health-care measure, he referred to a woman lobbyist as “a Wall Street whore.” The clearly misogynist remark caused a minor uproar, and the congressman apologized. It should have signaled a warning to those invested in the political fortunes of the Floridian, but it didn’t.
People who today excoriate Hillary Clinton for citing her gender as just one reason to vote for her, or who take her (rightly) to task for her Wall Street ties, were still down with Grayson.
But there are no excuses left for Alan Grayson, or for progressives who continue to support him. It’s time for him to leave the political stage, and leave his progressive guise in a cloakroom somewhere.