"What a week," wrote Congressman-elect Allen West to his supporters yesterday, "as we draw closer to a very Merry Christmas."
On the evidence, Allen West defines "merry" a bit differently from the rest of us, for he spends the next 15 paragraphs griping about Barack Obama's "attack" on "for-profit" universities, explicating the "great memories" evoked by his touring of a Blackhawk assembly line, reprimanding future Majority Whip Eric Cantor for his alleged laziness, lamenting the death of Lance Corporal Jose A. Hernandez, chiding his constituency for cleaving to the separation of church and state, warning us about the "despots, dictators, autocrats, and theocrats" who threaten our liberty, and referring to Congress' recent decision on "don't ask, don't tell" as a "last gasp measure" to appease "special interest groups." West closes with a four-word paragraph: "Utterly disturbing, totally
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To which we say: And a Very Merry to you, sir!
You can understand why West has a case of the grinchies. Here is a man whose entire political career rests on his ability to wrap himself in the American flag. In his heroic conception of the War on Terror (which he insists should actually be called "The War on Islam"), America is engaged in an existential, biblical struggle against the forces of darkness. He offers passionate commentary on the military campaigns of bygone centuries, as though the fall of the Byzantine Empire was an affront to American Exceptionalism. And he touts the sacrifices of our men and women in uniform as though he is their sole ally, and as though anyone who might have voted against him, or who has a view of Islam that is sufficiently nuanced to recognize any declension of the faith less rabid than outright Salafism, is directly responsible for the 5,800 American casualties of our current foreign wars. And yet, as we close the door on what should be a banner year in the West household, West is faced with the possibility that he will soon be asked to appear in dress uniform to pay his respects to a soldier who gave his or her life for this country, and who also happened to be openly gay. Which will muddy the waters a bit. It's hard to believe God's on your side when you're sharing a foxhole with an abomination.
When West closed his missive with "Utterly disturbing, totally pathetic," he was referring specifically to the lame-duck Congress' successful repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" -- a move he opposed, as he explains in his missive, because there are more important things to worry about than "with whom members of our fighting forces sleep." (He has made such noises before, apparently unaware that the repealing of "don't ask, don't tell" is important precisely because we oughtn't worry about our soldiers' sex lives.) If efforts to afford full soldierly enfranchisement to our queer fighting troops are "disturbing" and "pathetic," what words might West use to describe those troops' sacrifice, should the ultimate sacrifice be called for? I can't quite imagine. I do know that now, as thousands of troops contemplate allowing, for the first time, their comrades in arms to know who they truly are -- as friends and brothers have a right to know -- it is hardly the time to denigrate the great service that has been done them. Nor ought Allen West now suggest that certain men and women on the front lines are unworthy of the same legally guaranteed protections offered their fellows. Doing so is tacky. It certainly doesn't befit a lieutenant colonel who insisted, some seven years ago, that he would "go through hell with a gasoline can" to protect his soldiers.
Perhaps West really would walk through hell with a gasoline can. What he will not do, apparently, is break ranks with his party on a divisive social issue to cheer the enfranchisement of our fighting men and women. Is it so much to ask that this newly elected congressman -- my own congressman, incidentally -- recognize that, far from initiating a massive influx of cross-dressers and sodomy-crazed sex addicts into the armed forces, what Congress has done is allow a large subset of our fighting forces to breathe as easily as possible in the trenches, secure in the knowledge that an intercepted letter to a boyfriend or girlfriend will not lead to their discharge? West can still maintain that the repeal of "don't ask, don't tell" was a waste of time, but done is done. If West would continue to claim kinship with our soldiers and an animosity toward politics as usual, he should disavow the party line and offer profound thanks for those service members who were brave enough to fight our enemies when they couldn't even count on the friendship of their leaders.