Rep. Allen West, a Republican from Florida. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated…)
Reince Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, has such a dirty job that it's a wonder the Discovery Channel's Mike Rowe isn't following him around with a camera crew. Priebus, after all, has to serve as the apologist for Rep. Allen West of Florida, a "tea party" favorite who, with such unintentionally entertaining gaffe-sters as Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Newt Gingrich out of the spotlight, is now the GOP's reigning clown prince of umbrage-generating outrageousness.
After West said at a campaign event Sunday that President Obama was a proponent of slavery, it was Priebus who got Blitzered. Asked by CNN host Wolf Blitzer -- whose political beliefs are hard to decipher but whose disdain for indecorous politicians is clear -- to explain West's remarks, Priebus did his sputtering best but came up badly short.
"Allen can say what Allen wants to say, but I think what he's really trying to say is that if we become a dependent society, if everyone is reliant on the government -- I mean, listen. Barack Obama is the one that put out this 'Life of Julia' website. I think we all know what that is. It's a life of a girl from preschool to, I think, death or near death, showing how every step of her life..."
"Is she a slave?" Blitzer interrupted, putting a stop to Priebus' desperate attempt to change the subject.
"You know what? Listen, it's semantics," he asserted.
Yes. In much the same way that accusing a person of being a mass murderer for eating meat is a matter of semantics.
Liberal pundits are taking umbrage at West's remarks and condemning Priebus for failing to condemn them. Priebus, who knows full well that West's comments have a stimulative effect on the spinal cords of conservatives, prompting them to shuffle slack-jawed to the voting booth, has no intention of throwing West "in a ditch." Yet that does put him in the uncomfortable position of trying to explain why providing government services to the poor is the same as owning a human being for the purpose of exploiting his or her labor. (Specifically, West told a crowd in Port Saint Lucie, Fla., where he is running for reelection, that Obama "does not want you to have the self-esteem of getting up and earning and having that title of American. He'd rather you be his slave.")
West, of course, is confused about a lot more than the meaning of slavery; he also could stand a remedial course in 19th century political philosophy, since he apparently believes a large proportion of his Democratic colleagues in Congress are "card-carrying Marxist socialists." But that's West's problem -- or, rather, it isn't his problem, because such blathering has made him a nationwide hero among the Dittohead set.
The person for whom West does represent a problem, though, is Reince Priebus. As much as West's ravings comfort the conservative base, they do tend to enhance the impression that many of the people aspiring to leadership roles in the post-Obama GOP are wild-eyed wing-nuts (see Bachmann, Cain, et al). Given that Republicans will have to win votes from independents if they want to win the presidency and/or control of Congress this fall, is it wiser politically to bury the likes of West or to praise him?
What Priebus would most like to do, of course, is talk about something else. Have you heard about Obama's "Life of Julia" website?