Alan Grayson's Whipping the Vote Against Striking Syria Because "We're Not a Dictatorship"

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 5 2013 2:02 AM

Alan Grayson's Whipping the Vote Against Striking Syria Because "We're Not a Dictatorship"

When last we saw Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, he was declaring himself skeptical of the case for attacking chemical weapons targets in Syria. A week later, toward the end of the House Foreign Affairs hearing on the subject, Grayson was the lone member of Congress who didn't bother with a statement. He used his five minutes to fire off questions to the Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, getting John Kerry to say that no rebel groups had actually asked for intervention since this discussion began.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

"God helps those who help themselves, and they don't seem to want the help," Grayson told me in his office after the hearing ended. "It reminds me of White Man's Burden, where Kipling pointed out that the most thankless job you can take on is to try to improve the lives of people in another country. So the question I didn't ask, but wanted to ask, was: The British voted against this. Is there any information you have that they didn't have?"

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Since staking out a position against the intervention, Grayson's done plenty of media (he can tick off the number of TV appearances) and planted a new flag in social media. He owns Don'tAttackSyria.com, encourages the use of a hashtag with that name, and is using the sign-ups to prove how much anti-intervention sentiment is out there.

"We took a list of the public comments that members had made against the resolution," said Grayson. "We circulated a list of Democratic comments to Democratic members. We've arranged to circulate a list of Republican comments to Republican members."

Why do that? Maybe clueing in members to what other members are saying will inform them that there's hope out there, and contradicting information. "What we're basically doing is trying to challenge the administration's monopoly on communicating with members," said Grayson. "One of the things that you saw both in this context and in the context of the NSA vote is that the administration tries to dominate the conversation and exclude other points of view and other data from the conversation. The result of that is that members are treated to four classified briefings, this week alone, from proponents of the attack, and they hear nothing -- unless we arrange it -- from other points of view."

I asked Grayson whether any resolution might be worth getting behind -- maybe if it's more tightly worded. "It's not a question of what the words are," he said. "If you're convinced that we have no strategic interest in the matter, if you're convinced that what we do won't do any good, it doesn't make any difference what they put in the resolution. I'd like to see a resolution on humanitarian aid. I could vote for that." Until then, "it simply doesn't matter [what words they use]. They could propose to drop marshmallows on Damascus, but the fundamental issue that people feel is that is it's simply not our problem. Not a single British citizen has been attacked and not a single American citizen has been attacked."

What about the last-ditch administration argument, that stopping the resolution now would embolden Syria and other states that might want to deploy some of their chemical weapons?

"What it would demonstrate is that we're a functioning democracy, and that we make judgments collectively," said Grayson. "Not on the whim of one man. We're not a dictatorship. We're not the Syrian government. People are proud of that."

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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