When pressed by MSNBC's Joe Scarborough — a former Republican member of Congress — to call out Florida Rep. Allen West's accusation that "78 to 81" members of Congress were "members of the Communist Party," the Wall Street Journal's Peggy Noonan — a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan — couldn't decide if West's remarks were truly "stupid" or merely "mischievous." But whichever one she eventually settles on, she'll be applying the wrong adjective, because the swipe West took at his colleagues was too contrived to be called stupid and not clever enough to be called mischievous.
It was just plain lazy.
For West to indict his Democratic counterparts as "communist" last Tuesday at a town hall meeting in his district is less of an insult to them as it is an insult to the intelligence of his constituents — making a joke out of conservatives' case for policy reform and exposing West as a political hack.
With plenty of Tea Party street cred to burn, West has been touted by Sarah Palin as the ideal running mate for Mitt Romney. And though it's not precisely an honor to be endorsed by Palin — whose own laziness kept her from the Republican presidential nod — he's still getting pretty good pub. But he's also got a reputation as an outrage merchant whose stock-in-trade is abusive, fact-free bombast, making him Exhibit A when it comes to understanding why the conservative movement is still struggling to recruit a greater share of the black electorate to its cause.
To start, West's claim smacks of a double standard. As the Los Angeles Times' David Horsey points out, part of this election year's stunning sleight of hand is that "proposals like health-care 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," by folks like West, "as treacherous schemes to create a godless, socialist America."
It's one thing for West to build a case, point by point, that the only way to save the republic is to drastically slash the social safety net — that's Conservatism 101 — and it's a fair argument. But if he's exempting his Republican contemporaries — who've pushed every imaginable big-government "solution" from No Child Left Behind to Medicare Part D to Operation Iraqi Freedom — from a trip to the GOP re-education camp, then the communist charge is just a partisan smokescreen.
Until he coughs up a list of specific programs and tax loopholes he'd cut — home heating oil for the poor, ethanol subsidies, defense, perhaps the mortgage interest deduction? — then, frankly, he'll just have to consider himself a commie, too.
And West's most glaring lazy tendency is his habitual and all-too-quick resort to name-calling.
He knows no bounds when it comes to maligning cohorts as communist, describing Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz — a fellow Floridian and chair of the Democratic National Committee — as "cowardly" and "not a lady," or telling Barack Obama — president of the United States — to "get the hell out" of the United States.
It's the height of hypocrisy, especially when you consider that the sine qua non of today's black conservatives is taking offense (rightly) at being called names like "sellout" or "Uncle Tom."
But for better or worse, West has a national voice. He's a decorated Army officer who's known by his Ben Franklin specs and his Patrick Ewing flattop. And while he's still new to Congress, he's got a pretty big pulpit from which he can preach. He can decide to play it straight, or he can keep playing the role — and keep taking voters on his insult comedy tour. One way requires work.
Right now, he's taking the lazy way out.
David Swerdlick is a contributing editor to The Root. Follow him on Twitter.
David Swerdlick is an associate editor at The Root. Follow him on Twitter.