David Horsey / Los Angeles Times
Rep. Allen West, one of the loosest cannons in the Republican arsenal, believes there are about 80 members of the Communist Partyin the United States Congress.
Tuesday night at a town hall meeting in Jensen Beach, Fla., one of West’s constituents asked him how many “card-carrying Marxists or international socialists” there were in Congress. Without hesitation, Allen responded, “I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party.”
He went on to identify them as the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group within the Democratic caucus that wants to end corporate welfare for oil, gas and coal companies, rebuild the country’s infrastructure, expedite an end to the war in Afghanistan and eliminate tax cuts for the top 2% of Americans while extending tax relief for the middle class. Now, that may not sound like communism to you, but to West, such scary ideas apparently reek of Bolshevism. (Note to Rep. West: solid majorities of voters tell pollsters they support every one of those proposals -- the commies have already won!)
Democrats are a wee bit offended. They say West’s remarks are reminiscent of Republican Sen. Joe McCarthy’s anticommunist witch-hunt in the 1950s. Well, yeah. But I think we are a long way from another Red Scare. Compared with the powerful McCarthy, the first-term congressman from Florida’s balmy beaches is a pipsqueak.
What makes West’s comment notable is how it is only a tiny stretch beyond the rhetoric being employed by many more prominent Republicans. Policy proposals like healthcare mandates, cap-and-trade and immigration reform that were once being touted by Republicans -- radical lefties such as Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and George W. Bush -- are now branded as treacherous schemes to create a godless, socialist America. Throughout the primary campaign, GOP presidential candidates from Michele Bachmann to Rick Santorum have talked as if the 2012 election is the nation’s last chance to save the United States from becoming a clone of the Soviet Union.
These days, Republican town hall meetings often take on the tone of John Birch Society gatherings. Alarmed citizens stand up to speak of dark conspiracies and Democratic Party schemes to destroy the Constitution. Apparently, the meeting where West made his remarks ran along those lines. And, when the man stood up to ask about the percentage of card-carrying commies in the Congress, West first said, “That’s a good question.”
No it wasn’t. It was a crazy, paranoid question. Four years ago, when a woman at one of his rallies began to rant about Barack Obama being an anti-American Muslim, presidential candidate John McCain took the microphone away and said she was wrong. Obama was a good American and a good family man with whom he simply disagreed, McCain said.
This time around, no one is as brave as McCain. In a similar campaign setting with a similar comment from the crowd about “Muslim” Obama, Santorum just played along. Romney has masked his natural moderation with constant panders to the paranoids. It is hard to imagine Romney, Santorum or any Republican leader calling out Allen West for saying progressive Democrats are Communist Party members.
John McCain would, but then he’s a war hero who learned the hard way what real communists are like. These new would-be party leaders are no heroes. In fact, they are not so much leaders as they are cheerleaders turning cartwheels to please the most bellicose voices in the crowd.