Your Humble Monarch™ was cordially invited to a reception (read: fundraiser) Friday night for Congressman Alan Grayson of Florida. Held at the home of Bob Fertik and Antonia Stolper near Union Square, the event promised to be packed with other Democratic congresscritters: Yvette Clarke, Hakeem Jeffries, Nita Lowey, Carolyn Maloney, Grace Meng, Jerry Nadler, Charlie Rangel, José Serrano, Nydia Velasquez and—last, but not least!—Steve Israel, chairweasel of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), and perpetual target of Palace loathing and scorn.
Because I am an intrepid world famous political journalist (or at least I sometimes play one on my blog!), I found this invitation far too intriguing to decline. Sure, meeting Grayson sounded fun; I have long been a fan and supporter. But the chance to encounter Steve Israel really got my beanie spinning. And so on Friday evening I disguised myself as Gender Conforming Democrat Barbie™—pearls, heels, makeup, nail polish, black slacks, classy blouse, badass jacket—and schlepped on over to Union Square.
I had of course compiled Top Secret dossiers on the expected politicos, and crafted trenchant and insightful questions for each of them in case the opportunity for an interview should arise. You know, questions like: “What the fuck is Steve Israel doing here, do ya think?” and “Can I have a hug?”
The Israel Dossier
Much of the material on Steve Israel comes straight out of the Palace archives.
Congressman Steve Israel (NY-3).
NY-3: most of the North Shore of Long Island, parts of Northeastern Queens. The district went for Bush/Cheney in ’04 and McCain/Palin in ’08; Obama barely squeaked by (50%-49%) in 2012.
Professional Background: PR, marketing.
Committees: Appropriations, various subcommittees thereof.
Caucus: Co-chair and founder of the Center Aisle Caucus.
Party Leadership: Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) since January 2011.
It is these last two resumé items with which the Palace most concerns itself.
First the caucus. Back in 2005, Steve Israel and his BFF, Illinois Republican Tim Johnson, co-founded the Center Aisle Caucus—or “CACA,” as I like to call it. Although the actual number is impossible to verify since CACA membership is Sooper Seekrit, the caucus has roughly sixty members, split evenly between Democrats and Republicans. The CACAs fancy themselves “defiant centrists”—or conservatives, as I like to call them. This would be terrible enough considering how far to the right the “center” has drifted, but it’s actually much worse than that: CACAs observe an unwritten rule never to engage in political campaigns against other CACAs. If the membership estimate is roughly accurate, this takes about thirty House congressional races right off the table for Democrats—courtesy of the chairman of the DCCC, Steve Israel.
The DCCC is extremely powerful within the party: it holds the purse strings to vast sums of campaign cash that it divvies out as it sees fit to both incumbents and new recruits. How the DCCC wields this power is quite telling.
In the last election cycle, the DCCC refused to fund Jim Graves. I bet right about now you’re asking yourself who the fuck is Jim Graves? The reason you don’t know the answer to that question is because neither the DCCC nor its PAC spent one single dollar to help Democrat Jim Graves beat Republican Michele Bachmann in a winnable race. Yes, you read that right: the DCCC would rather have Michele Bachmann in the House than a Democrat in her seat.
You’ve heard of her, now, haven’t you? Tea Queen of Kookville Minnesota ring any bells? If so, perhaps that’s because she was regularly cited by name in a relentless barrage of fundraising messages from the DCCC and its House Majority PAC. Rather than support Jim Graves, the DCCC poured an average of $1,710,159 each into the campaigns of a slate of conservative Democrats (“Blue Dogs” and “New Dems”). Howie Klein of Down With Tyranny noted:
In the 10th closest race, in Minnesota’s 6th CD, first-time candidate Jim Graves came within 4,197 votes of longtime incumbent and right-wing icon, Michele Bachmann… and it is the only [close] race the DCCC refused to spend any money on. Graves is a very indepedent-minded Democrat and, unlike almost all the other candidates the DCCC spent big on, he refused to join the reactionary and corrupt New Dems that Steve Israel and Steny Hoyer are determined to flood the House Democratic caucus with– even to the point of losing races.
Not counting outside money, Bachmann spent $11,946,232 on her reelection campaign, an incredible $66.65 for every vote. Graves spent $2,279,384 or $13.03 per vote. Just as an exercise, had the DCCC spent on Graves the average of what they spent on these close races, it seems inconceivable that he wouldn’t have won by a very substantial margin. Just sayin’.
I have a theory about this perfidy—two, actually. First is that up until she announced her retirement, Michele Bachmann was the single largest cash generator for the Democratic Party in history. But there is also another benefit to name-dropping Bachmann at every turn: she is so far off the right-wing rails she makes the craven, corporatist, conservative Democrats running the party look like flaming Marxists by comparison.
In the runup to the 2012 presidential election, the role of Bachmann the Bogeyman was played by right-wing sociopath Paul Ryan, a.k.a. Satan. Neither the DCCC nor its PAC gave one red cent to Rob Zerban, the Democrat running against Ryan in yet another winnable race. Nowadays, Ryan’s once again the star of Democratic fundraiser messaging.
Unretouched photo of Congressman Paul Ryan, a.k.a. Satan.
Dick Cheney said: “I worship the ground that Paul Ryan walks on”—thereby confirming beyond any reasonable doubt that Paul Ryan is, in fact, Satan.
Let’s just let that sink in for a minute: the DCCC under Steve Israel’s leadership would rather have Paul Ryan in that seat than a liberal Democrat.
Questions for Steve Israel
- Considering your party’s fundraising emails over the last few years, I have to ask: is Michele Bachmann the single largest cash generator for the Democratic Party in history, or does that distinction belong to Paul Ryan?
- Is that why neither the DCCC nor its PAC spent a single dollar to beat Bachmann or Ryan in winnable races, or is it because Jim Graves and Rob Zerban are not corrupt conservatives like you?
- What the fuck are you doing here? This is an Alan Grayson reception.
- Have you met Rob Zerban? Hey Rob! Over here! I want you to come meet Steve Israel! Yeah, the doucheweasel who wouldn’t support your campaign against Paul Ryan!
As you can see, I am a total pro: I was nothing if not prepared.
And I was nothing if not late, either. But I wasn’t the only one: Congressman Grayson arrived right behind me. As we crammed into the tiny elevator together, he introduced his companion as his girlfriend. “She’s a doctor,” he said, “So if you need her to take a look at a sore throat or anything…”
“It’s great to meet you both,” I said, “but no, I don’t think that’ll be necessary.”
As the doors closed he chirped “What floor?”
“Sixth floor, Grayson reception,” I deadpanned.
“Second floor, lingerie!” he shot back, cracking himself up as the elevator ascended.
I whipped out the daisy sticker he had sent to contributors (pictured above), and flashed it at him. “Before you leave, I’d like to get your autograph on this.” He smiled. “Wow, I feel like a fangirl in the presence of a lefty rock star,” I gushed, “just like I did that one time back in the 80s when I met Robert Plant!” His girlfriend laughed at that.
“Rock star, huh?” Grayson was laughing too.
To my great relief the elevator doors opened on 6 before I could say anything else to irredeemably embarrass myself.
The loft apartment was spacious and gorgeously appointed, and elegant hors d’ oeuvres drifted around the room on silver platters. As I made a beeline to the bar I scanned the crowd. These must be those librul eeleetz I’ve heard so much about! I spotted Rob Zerban, waved hello, and asked him how his race against Satan was going. He gave me a hug and a kiss, without my even asking.
People were happily mingling and introducing themselves when I suddenly remembered that I hate people. I found myself in a corner with some staffers from Democrats.com who claimed to be Occupy Wall Streeters, yet were inexplicably shocked and mystified to learn that the DCCC would not finance the Democratic opponents of Paul Ryan or Michele Bachmann. Fucking people, I swear. I’d been there less than ten minutes and I already needed another drink.
The crowd swelled, and the Big Willies had apparently reached the necessary critical mass. Cameras began rolling and a parade of esteemed congresspersons made their way to the front to deliver impassioned encomiums to Alan Grayson. More than one of his colleagues mentioned that he is fun to work with—an exceedingly rare quality in Congress. All of the speeches were mercifully brief. (Unlike, say, this blog post.)
Grayson took the floor to rousing applause, thanked everybody, and proceeded to rile up the room with his trademarked firebrand quips. Did you know that more money was spent by the opposition—$5 million—during his last race than was spent in a House race against any candidate, ever? And that $4 million of it came from the Koch Brothers? Well actually yes, I did know that. But that is not the point! The point is that Grayson comes off just as sharp, funny and genuine in person as he does in his campaign messaging and media appearances. His audience ate it up, clapping and cheering as if to punctuate zinger after zinger.
Meanwhile, I took a lot of pictures that all came out more or less like this:
At some point Congressman Eliot Engel arrived, and made his way to the front. Look! Here’s a picture!
Wait, did Engel just crash this party? He was not on the honorary host list, and I had prepared no dossier on him. Grayson noticed him immediately, interrupted his spiel to acknowledge him, graciously thanked him for coming, and announced with great enthusiasm that there is “no greater friend to Israel in Congress than Eliot Engel!”
The room that a few seconds ago had been buzzing right along with Grayson’s every utterance fell strangely quiet. It took every bit of willpower I could muster, but somehow I resisted the urge to yell “OMIGOD AWKWARD!“
Grayson soon wrapped up, and opened to floor to Q & A. After a few d00ds took their turns, I asked, “What would it take for the Democratic party power center and leadership to shift to the ranks of the Progressive Caucus from, say, the Center Aisle Caucus?”
Grayson replied that we could all learn a lot from the Tea Party—not from their ideology of course, but from their tactics. For example, they run their candidates in primary campaigns against Republicans they feel aren’t conservative enough.
Whoa. For years I have been writing screed after screed urging that liberals deploy exactly this tactic, yet up until that moment I had never heard a politician express anything even close to it. Wait. OMFG! Alan Grayson has been reading my blog! Obviously!
We had a nice exchange, wherein I pointed out that Tea Partiers are willing to run a primary candidate even with no hope of winning the general election against a Democrat: unlike the lefties, they’re actually willing to lose an election rather than have a Republican candidate they don’t approve of win. He said that’s not their intention, but yes, the tactic sometimes has that effect.
I would have argued that in order for that tactic to work it has to have that effect, at least potentially, but he had already moved on to the next questioner. (Clearly Alan Grayson needs to study my blog more closely.)
After the Q&A broke up, I obnoxiously insinuated myself right up next to Grayson and demanded he pose with me for a selfie—a request he happily obliged.
I whipped out my daisy sticker once again, and a blue Sharpie. “Can you please sign this for me?”
“Sign it? Sure!” Grayson wandered over to a quiet windowsill and sat down. He looked thoughtful for a moment, and began to write.
“Make it good!” I said. “I’m gonna frame this!”
He took his time, and when he was done handed it back. “Thank you,” I said, “It’s really been a pleasure and an honor to meet you.”
“Oh, it was great meeting you, Iris! I hope I see you again!”
“Well I hope I see you again—in Congress.” We shook hands, and I took my leave.
Then I annoyed everyone taking selfies with them on my way out the door. (Charlie Rangel! Yvette Clarke! Howie Klein!)
Guess who was a no-show? Steve. Fucking. Israel.
I took the elevator down with Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney. “So what brings you here?” she asked.
“I’m a blogger, and a big fan of Alan Grayson.”
“What’s your blog about?”
“Politics, sex, religion,” I said. “You know, all the things we’re not supposed to talk about.”
“I like it already. Got a card? If you give me your card, I’ll send you some links.”
“You might not like my blog. I go after conservative Democrats.”
“You should go after the Republicans,” she replied.
“Why? There’s no hope for them.”
(You know something? I really don’t like people telling me what I should or shouldn’t write about…)
I handed her my card, and she looked at it before stashing it away.
“This is your blog?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Pretty sure you won’t like it.”
“Well,” she said, “I like you.”
We had reached the street. “Ciao, Congresswoman—nice to meet you.”
She waved as she turned right, heading East on 17th Street.
And I, of course, went left.