REP. ALLEN WEST (R-FL): I believe there's about 70, 80 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party [in the House of Representatives].For some reason, a certain set of people in a certain part of Florida decided, back in 2010, that the person they most wanted to represent them in the House of Representatives of the United States was one Allen West. This was despite ample evidence that this fellow was, as gently as can be put, touched in the head. His rhetoric is sketchy at best; some of the stuff in his past is considerably worse than merely sketchy. (I will confess that during the investigations into U.S. abuse of prisoners during the Iraq War, the one thing that did not enter my head was, "You know what, I really think we ought to turn one of these accused torturers into a congressman, they seem really well suited for the job." But I'm not a Republican.) Once ensconced in Congress, he proceeded on his apparent quest to be known as the worst dunderhead in an institution full of them, making headlines again and again for saying profoundly stupid things in profoundly stupid ways, and generally demonstrating to the rest of the nation, once again, that the people of Florida are not really ready for democracy after all.
So how shall we parse Allen West's new and apparently off-the-top-of-his-head assertion that there are "70, 80 to 81" Democrats in Congress who are members of the Communist Party? It is difficult to tell from the video, but from the arduous manner in which he squeezes out the words, he appears to either be putting a lot of thought into that statement as he says it, or just frantically making shit up on the fly—and I'm not sure, in West's case, that a bystander could even tell the difference. He is either a gifted liar or a less-than-gifted idiot, which, as it turns out, is also a near prerequisite for being a congressional Republican, since they do not take kindly to book learnin' these days.
Was he consciously trying to invoke McCarthy's infamous lie? To what end? Did he calculate that his tea party base was so old and decrepit that appealing to them through 1950s-era propaganda was the best way to relate to them? West's office quickly "explained" (note to self: being the office guy in charge of Explaining Shit Allen West Says has got to be the worst goddamn job in the universe, like being left to clean out the Augean stables using nothing but your tongue) that West was really referencing how many members of the Progressive Caucus there were in Congress. That's the go-to explanation, mind you: That their candidate is too illiterate or stupid to know the difference between "progressive caucus" and communism, or card-carrying Communist Party membership, and so naturally botched it up when put on the spot by his constituents.
At some point, however, we might as a nation want to establish some lower bounds for just how full of crap you can be and still be considered leadership material. Or congressional material. Or an intern at a congressional office, for Christ's sake. We can sit here and insult Mr. West all we like, or opine on whether he is genuinely stupid or is just feigning it, but none of that speaks to the larger question as to whether there is some conduct that Mr. West could engage in that would finally be considered beneath the dignity (cough) of a congressman, and what that might be.
(Continued below the fold.)
Blast from the Past. At Daily Kos on this date in 2005:
They're working to bottle John Bolton up in committee.
But the eight Democrats on the panel, all of whom are expected to oppose the nomination, denounced the choice as divisive and capable of jeopardizing Bush's attempts this year to repair diplomatic ties frayed in his first term over the Iraq war.
Ranking Democrat Sen. Joseph Biden (news, bio, voting record) of Delaware complained the hearing was being held without the committee fully investigating accusations Bolton pressed for two intelligence analysts to be fired after they appeared soft on Cuba.
Sen. Christopher Dodd (news, bio, voting record), a Connecticut Democrat, told ABC on the eve of the hearing, "There's very credible information that Mr. Bolton tried to have analysts—intelligence analysts, in at least two cases—removed from their jobs."
What conduct could that be? Short of actual crimes, it seems difficult to imagine. We know that mere "appearance of corruption" won't get people to think any less of you. Sen. David Vitter, he of the prostitution non-scandal (Republicans decided it was a non-scandal because his resignation would have given the Democrats an advantage in the election to replace him, which is just about the most convenient reason I can think of for deciding that, just this once, a married family values conservative visiting whores was not that big a deal), faced no consequences for holding up a cabinet member's salary increase unless that cabinet member's government department altered their policy to Vitter's liking because, as the ethics committee declared, it wasn't an explicit rule that you couldn't extort government officials in exchange for money.
We know that repeatedly getting caught telling outright falsehoods won't have negative consequences. Paul Ryan can make up budget numbers over and over, they can be proven to be false over and over, and he'll still be feted as a deep thinker, because "deep thinker" is now the absolute equivalent of "gifted bullshit peddler." The two terms might as well be interchangeable. Mitt Romney has engaged in the same set of lies over and over, on things like "Obama's apology tour" and the like, and those things have been cited as false, over and over, and he still says them, over and over, and the fact that Mr. Mitt Romney is apparently an unapologetic liar is not, according to the great and powerful defenders of our national discourse, any reason to think less of him. It is expected now. For some reason, people involved with politics have been given blanket permission to lie that no other American professional could manage, with the possible exception of banker. You are allowed to lie now, and lie repeatedly, and tell really whopping lies, lies that every damn person in the room knows to be lies as soon as they come out of your mouth, and it is allowed as long as you are (1) defending an ideological point of view that requires you to lie in order to tell a more compelling story or (2) bullshitting your investors for very large sums of money. Very large sums of money. Lie about stealing a can of beans, and you'd better hope there's no videocameras to prove you wrong. Lie about your company owning that guy's house, over there, and fuck it—the worst that can happen is that a judge slaps a fine on you. Lie about the quality of your company's bundled derivatives, and they'll protect your job, give you a huge bonus, and name a damn building after you.
As an isolated incident, Allen West's confusion as to whether he has discovered members of the Communist Party in Congress is just another stupid lie muttered by a congressmen who manages to tell stupid lies several times a week. But it's not an isolated incident. It's the standard mode of operation for our political leaders, the people who ostensibly write our laws and codify our national values. That's a hell of a thing, or it should be.
I don't even know what I'm asking for, here. Some sort of sanctions against West? Short of a mandatory congressional dunce cap, there's nothing that would apply. Some sort of fact-checking organization to push back on the most ridiculous things? We have those. Joke's on us, because it turns out they don't make a dime's worth of difference.
I think all I really want is that, if a national figure is caught telling a baldfaced lie to the public, we think less of them. That does not seem too much to ask, though it has so far been too much for the village elders to give us. But pundits might consider withholding their effervescent praise from politicians who flat lie their asses off to the public, and to the pundits themselves. Reporters might want to dedicate more stories to not just repeating what a public figure said and whether people disagree, but whether a reasonably impartial observer would identify the statement as an obvious fib. If someone thinks so little of the public that they are willing to lie, and repeatedly, to advance their own goals, perhaps we ought to consider those people mere bullies and hacks, and perhaps they are not the sort of people that good, upstanding media figures should be snuggling up to and treating as our social betters. Really. It's not that hard.
But I've been saying the same thing for a heck of a long time now, and it's gotten worse, not better. Our politicians have gotten even more aggressive in simply bullshitting their way through inconvenient facts. Our press has gotten no better a shaming them, or even distancing themselves from them. We have elevated, if possible, even more ridiculous figures than usual into legitimacy, and if you doubt that, I will remind you that Michele Effing Bachmann was considered a presidential frontrunner by many, many people not all that long ago, along with Herman Cain, and national joke Rick Santorum, and—must we?—previously disgraced Newt Gingrich, who became un-disgraced again only because our standards had fallen so low that even he could pass himself off as something other than a washed-up narcissist.
I'm not seeing any signs that we, as a country, can do any better than this. Worse, it seems obvious that we'd happily do worse, if worse presented itself. Who knows: In 20 years, maybe we'll even be looking back at the communist-hunting Allen West wistfully, wishing we could still at least have congressmen who could pronounce words as big as "communist" without swallowing their tongues.