Allen West, Tell Us What You Really Think About Communism

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
April 19 2012 1:50 PM

Allen West, Tell Us What You Really Think About Communism

The thing to remember about Allen West is that he has a skyscraper-high opinion of his own intelligence. Yeah, he has critics. He had critics when he was in the army. Where are they now, and where is he? "Intellectually," West told Politico last month in an interview about his re-election, "I’m not being challenged. There is someone that is running, but I’m not being challenged." In another interview, West was asked about a video of marines urinating on a dead Taliban soldier. He condemned them, but he had to add something. "Unless you have been shot at by the Taliban, shut your mouth."

That's your context for West's ongoing monologue about Communism in the Democratic Party. He made the comments last week (and I think some lazy initial reporting made them sound worse than they were), but he keeps getting asked about them. On Tuesday, at a large roundtable with GOP freshmen, a reporter asked West whether he "regretted" saying that the members of the Progressive Caucus were Communists. West, unsmiling, suggested that the reporter had not done his research.

No, I don’t regret it whatsoever. And I think that if you would take the time to study the political spectrum of ideologies, you’d understand that at the turn of the [20th] century, American Communists renamed themselves as progressives. If you study the Woodrow Wilson administration, people referred to the Woodrow Wilson administration as a progressive administration.
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Adam Serwer did a good job of explaining just how ahistorical this was. Short version: Wilson, a progressive, also directed law enforcement to round up, imprison, and deport international communists. This gets to the problem with West's "communist" talk -- it's just divorced from the history of international communism. Americans don't blanch at the C-word because they dislike domestic social democratic policies. They blanch because communists, at one time, represented a threat to national security. West's military career spanned 22 years, starting in 1983. That was two years after China started creating economic enterprize zones and two years before Perestroika. The threat he ascribes to American progressives is just wildly anachronistic, which is why he's left pointing out that Progressive Caucus members occasionally get along with Fidel Castro.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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