Back in the Republican landslide of 1980, GOP candidates across the nation, riding the Gipper’s coattails, swept many entrenched Democrats out of office, including Indiana’s John Brademas, then the House Democratic Whip, Al Ullman, then chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee and long-time Democratic Senators like Washington State’s Warren Magnuson, then the senior member of the United States Senate (having first taken office in 1944), and other Senate powerhouses including Indiana’s Birch Bayh, Wisconsin’s Gaylord Nelson and South Dakota’s George McGovern.
In New York, eight-term Congressman Lester L. Wolf lost his Long Island seat to a man 34 years his junior, 27-year-old John LeBoutillier, just one year out of Harvard Business School. The Republican became “the youngest member of the 97th Congress,” and certainly acted like it. He regularly engaged in ad hominem attacks not just on Democrats, but also on his fellow Republicans, calling Charles Percy, the then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee “a living disaster with almost no redeeming features.”
He reserved the better part of his rancor for then-House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, famously opening one speech with the line, “Tip O’Neill and the federal government are the same: they’re both big, fat and out of control.”
His juvenile attacks earned him the admiration of many young conservatives, but did not help him with his Long Island constituents. In 1982, he lost his seat in the Republican-leaning district to Robert Mrazek.
Such, I believe, will be the fate of the man who, in the current Congress, most resembles John LeBoutillier. Elected in 2008 as part of the Obama landslide in Florida’s Orange County (where nearly two-thirds of his constituents reside), Rep. Alan Grayson has engaged in rhetorical attacks on his Republican colleagues that make Leboutillier’s accusations seem tame by comparison.
Like that one-term Republican Congressman, Grayson has not limited his attacks to his partisan adversaries. He has called a female lobbyist a “K Street whore.” And let’s not forget the venom with which he has attacked Republicans, saying their health care plan is based on the notion that they want people to “die quickly.” He has said former Vice President Dick Cheney has “blood that drips from his teeth“.
Such rhetoric may endear Grayson to the far left Democratic base, just as LeBoutillier’s rhetoric endeared him to many conservative activists in the early 1980s. But, it offends many voters, even those who might otherwise share his politics.
There’s a reason that, nearly thirty years after Leboutillier’s election, only political junkies know who the man was. So will it be ten years hence with Alan Grayson, a soon-to-be one-term Congressman, distinguished only by his rhetorical excess.