Allen West and His Critics
By: Dr. Paul Kengor
Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared at American Spectator.
Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.) is being heavily criticized for comments alleging that certain Democratic members of Congress are communists, and he is not backing down. West dared to quantify his accusation, claiming there are “78 to 81” Congressional Democrats who are communists.
I want to say three things relating to West’s remarks: First, some criticism of West’s critics. Second, a defense of West’s critics. And, finally, some criticism of West, which I offer constructively. I like Allen West and want him to succeed.
First, on West’s critics:
Their concern about West’s exaggeration and name-calling has little credibility coming from an ideology (liberalism) and political party (Democrats) who constantly engage in exaggeration and name-calling. I could point out a litany of examples. It’s as easy as the latest liberal/Democrat gambit accusing Republicans of a “war on women” merely because they believe the federal government shouldn’t force taxpayers to fund contraception and Planned Parenthood. For that crime, West’s colleague Maxine Waters called Republicans “demons.” Nancy Pelosi said they want women to “die on the floor.” Dianne Feinstein insisted they want “to sock it to women.” Harry Reid claimed Republicans have placed a “bull’s eye on women.” Barbara Boxer described it as a “vendetta” against women. Congresswoman Barbara Lee summed it up as a GOP “war on women.”
I could go on and on. Google the words “George W. Bush” and “Hitler” or “Nazi.” Or recall the obscene statements from Democratic lawmakers regarding the Iraq war. Remember that Senator Dick Durbin compared our troops to “Nazis, Soviets in their gulags, or some mad regime—Pol Pot or others.”
But only when a Rush Limbaugh blows his top—or someone like Allen West issues charges like this one—does the New York Times start issuing calls for civility.
Point made. Now, for my second and third points:
Allen West needs to be much more careful. He sloppily overlapped categories and blurred lines of distinction. The reality is that the left side of the political spectrum is very broad. It includes Democrats, liberals, progressives, “social-justice” Christians, socialists, communists, Marxists, Leninists, Stalinists, Maoists, and more. There are distinct differences, even when a liberal Democrat favors something that Marx favored. For instance, point two in Marx’s 10-point plan in The Communist Manifesto calls for “a heavy progressive or graduated income tax.” Advocates of this include basically the entirety of the Democratic membership of the House of Representatives—but it doesn’t make them Marxists. Consider point three in Marx’s 10-point plan, which calls for “abolition of all rights of inheritance.” Many “liberals” and “progressives” advocate that to some degree (via taxation), but I know of no Congressional Democrat calling for complete abolition of all rights of inheritance.
Likewise, Marx wrote this: “the theory of the communists may be summed up in the single sentence: Abolition of private property.” Yes, liberals place all kinds of restrictions on private property, but I know of no Congressional Democrat who would go as far as Lenin and Stalin and Mao and Pol Pot and Castro.
Here’s the reality that often complicates things for conservatives when looking at the political left: Liberals agree with communists on many key sympathies—workers’ rights, spreading and redistributing wealth, a narrow to non-existent income gap, an expansive central government offering a wide array of “free” government services, favoring the public sector over the private sector, class-based rhetoric (often demagoguery) toward the wealthy, progressively high tax rates. The differences are matters of degree, but they are crucial differences.
Sure, Allen West didn’t say that every liberal in Congress is a communist. Yet, he did say that there is a huge portion. Even worse, he initially said that “78 to 81” were actual Communist Party members, or about 40 percent of the Democratic membership. Clearly that’s not accurate. If it is, then West should be chiseled into Mt. Rushmore for exposing the greatest threat to Washington since the War of 1812—and we should commence a national march to the Capitol right now, with torches.
I assume that West misspoke, and meant communists (lower case “c”) in ideology, not actual card-carrying Communist Party members.
Allen West has forgotten the painful lesson of Joe McCarthy: If you’re going to call certain people communists, you better be absolutely, 100 percent certain. There’s nothing that liberals detest more than anti-communism. Their preferred villain is Joe McCarthy, not Joe Stalin. They and their mass media will go ballistic, demanding a level of precision from you that they never demand from their own name-callers. Our side must be more cautious; that’s the deck stacked against us.
Allen West, your courage and boldness is refreshing, but please be more careful.
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values. His books include "The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism," and his latest release, "Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century."