With all due respect to my colleague David Swerdlick — whose thoughtful, precise political commentaries are some of the best things you will read on The Root — he made a serious mistake in his recent piece about Allen West, the ultraconservative black Republican congressman from Florida.
Contrary to what Swerdlick wrote, the problem with West is not that he's being "just plain lazy" when he commits outrageous acts like charging that "there are about 78 or 81 members of the Democrat Party that are members of the Communist Party." It's that he, and his fellow black right-wingers, are just plain crazy.
Stark, raving, certifiably crazy. Ape-dung, baying-at-the-moon, in-need-of-a-straitjacket ker-a-a-a-z-z-z-y. Crazy enough to play into the insanity of the predominantly white, mostly poorly educated, deeply prejudiced and highly paranoid constituencies they appeal to. Crazy, that is, like a fox.
Mind you, I am not trying to make a psychiatric diagnosis of what ails West and his ilk (though some of them clearly belong in the booby hatch). I'm not a shrink, and I don't know West from Adam. For all I know, he actually believes the outlandish ideas he espouses.
But I don't have to get up close and personal with West to know that quite a few ambitious black politicians have figured out that one of the best ways to get ahead is to separate themselves from the black mainstream and present themselves as right-wing extremists. They don't waste time trying to convince other blacks to go along with their ideas because they know that most of us are not crazy enough to support them.
Instead, they exploit the right wing's need to inoculate itself from charges of racism by proving that there is at least one black person who agrees with its wacko positions. Any reasonably presentable Negro who's willing to make that deal can go to the head of the pack.
It's how West, a first-term congressman who has never introduced a notable piece of legislation, got Sarah Palin enthusiastically backing him as a GOP vice presidential prospect. It's how pizza magnate Herman Cain got blond bomb thrower Ann Coulter rhapsodizing that "our blacks are so much better than their blacks." It's what got Clarence Thomas onto the U.S. Supreme Court, made conservative author Shelby Steele into a noted intellectual and allowed the loquacious right-wing crank Alan Keyes to run for the U.S. Senate against Barack Obama.
And there are some in the pipeline who make West look like a beacon of sanity and moderation. Among them is Judge Janice Rogers Brown, a George W. Bush appointee who sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. She espouses a theory of property rights so sweeping that, according to some legal scholars, it might make child-labor laws, Social Security, Medicare, clean-air regulations and even the federal highway system unconstitutional.
As Brown declared in a recent opinion (pdf) co-signed by a like-minded jurist: "America's cowboy capitalism was long ago disarmed by a democratic process increasingly dominated by powerful groups with economic interests antithetical to competitors and consumers. And the courts, from which the victims of burdensome regulation sought protection, have been negotiating the terms of surrender since the 1930s."
Brown, wrote legal analysts Douglas T. Kendall and Timothy J. Dowling, "openly supports a return to the era of Lochner v. New York" — the 1905 case in which a state that set a maximum-hours limitation on bakers was struck down by the Supreme Court. In the wake of that ruling, scores of federal and state statutes designed to improve working conditions and jump-start the economy during the Great Depression were struck down.
Brown is, in other words, an even more extreme example of the right-wing judicial activism that could lead the current Supreme Court to upend Barack Obama's health care reform law in the middle of this year's presidential election. If she had her way, much of the 20th century would be repealed. She's even crazier than Antonin Scalia.
The point is, there's nothing lazy about West and his fellow black conservatives. In fact, you can work up a pretty good sweat with all that shucking and jiving. Endearing yourself to the lunatic fringe may be a difficult and undignified task, but it pays pretty well — if you're crazy enough to do it.
Jack White keeps an eye on right-wing politics for The Root.
is a former columnist for TIME magazine and a regular contributor to The Root.