The Alan Grayson spin machine had been running full speed.
The storyline — promoted by Grayson's handlers and the media — was that Central Florida's firebrand liberal congressman was no longer a bomb-thrower.
No more calling female lobbyists whores. No more comparing opponents to the Taliban. No more saying Republicans want sick people to "die quickly."
It was a kinder, gentler Alan. "Alan Grayson 2.0," declared one headline, "Less fire-breathing, more self-restraint."
Until this week, anyway, when Grayson equated the tea party to the Ku Klux Klan.
You know, the racists in white hoods. Who have killed people.
Grayson even included a picture of a burning cross, suggesting it was the "t" in "tea party."
He then turned the image into a fundraising pitch.
In doing so, Grayson re-established himself as what many people have thought he always was — hyperbolic, insensitive and tough to take seriously.
The email kicked off a predictable firestorm. One tea party group turned Grayson's fundraising attack on them with a fundraising attack on him, titled: "We Are Under Siege!"
Grayson seems not to realize that he fuels the extremism he claims to despise.
Or perhaps he doesn't care, as long as he gets attention.
The truth is: I don't really care much about the outrage from the loudest tea party zealots. They would scream at Grayson no matter what.
But I do care that Grayson, as a U.S. congressman, contributes to a coarsening of public debate.
I care that he's trivializing the deaths of scores of blacks … to raise money for himself, no less.
I care that he uses some of the same tactics as racists — using the actions of some to try to demonize and stereotype an entire group — to justify his actions. (I'm guessing that escapes him.)
I even care that Grayson undermines some of his otherwise valid points.
Grayson remains unapologetic. Even as fellow Democrats condemned his tactics, Grayson responded: "If the hood fits …"
Alan 2.0 indeed.
Grayson's defense is that the tea party says ugly, racist things.
And some do. We've seen Barack Obama compared to monkeys and attacked for everything from his skin color to his wife. Quite often. And the tea partyers outraged by Grayson's comments rarely seem to express outrage over such remarks from within their own ranks.
But there are also plenty of decent, well-spoken conservatives in the movement. So to portray all tea partyers as hatemongers is to employ the same sweeping stereotypes Grayson claims to despise.
More important, the Klan murdered people.
Let's pause on that detail. Most tea partyers fight with words. The Klan lynched and brutalized blacks and Jews.
I can't believe Grayson doesn't understand that distinction. I just don't think he cares.
We see more and more of that nowadays on both sides of the aisle — cavalier references to the KKK, the Holocaust, Hitler, socialism, Marxism — people erroneously referring to tragedies they don't appreciate and using terms they don't understand.
They look foolish, sound offensive — and rarely win anyone over.
That's the part that I don't think Grayson gets: His antics don't change minds.
Sure, the people who loved his bombast before love it again. But how many critics did he convert with his burning cross and hooded Klansmen? How many minds did he enlighten?
Very few. Instead, Grayson undermines the valid points he otherwise makes — about intolerance, consumer rights, Wall Street greed and the importance of the middle class. He marginalizes himself.
I heard one loyal liberal say Grayson seems intent on being the Allen West-styled lightning rod of the Democratic Party. That Grayson would better serve his cause by speaking in a way that gives power to his issues, rather than to his enemies.
It's good advice … which I'm sure Grayson has no interest in hearing.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun