Last Wednesday, Congressman Allen West took to the House floor to commemorate Black History Month. As the first black congressman from Florida since Reconstruction, he was in a unique position to do so. West had hundreds of years of history he could have talked about, including 51 years of his own. Instead, he turned his "commemoration" into a partisan attack that featured delusional attacks for things that happened 150 years ago.
A hint at how hyperbolic this thing was: West spoke reverently about Abraham Lincoln and the end of slavery, then said, "The Democratic appetite for ever-increasing re-distributionary handouts is, in fact, the most insidious form of slavery remaining in the world today."
I'm not really sure how people who are actually modern-day slaves would feel about this statement, but here are a few others that merit a closer look:
West spent most of the 17-minute speech, which is titled "West Exceptional Speech" on his own YouTube channel, grabbing credit for Republican reforms that happened long before any of his old, ignorant colleagues were even born, reforms with forward-thinking, progressive qualities that seem to be long-gone in the GOP.
"The Republican Party has always been the party of freedom," West said. "The Republicans have always been the party of free men, of individual freedom."
The operative word here appears to be "men," because the Republican Party most certainly is not the party of freedom when it comes to reproductive rights, whether it's abortion, birth control or Planned Parenthood. And he probably meant to say "straight men," because we all know how outrageously free Republicans want gay people to be when it comes time to tie the knot. (Hint: West says gay marriage is an oxymoron.)
West also claimed the Emancipation Proclamation and the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution for the Republicans, which might be technically true, but the party name is the only thing that's persevered: West said when the 15th Amendment passed, "it was the Democrats who resorted to poll taxes, literacy tests, intimidation and other pernicious practices in an effort to keep black Americans from exercising their right to vote."
There's no arguing voter surpression an under-handed tactic that's still very much a problem today. Unfortunately, it's the Republicans who are doing it now: A study several months ago found that laws in several states could keep as many as 5 million people from voting -- largely young people, minorities, and the poor.
West might fault Democrats for poll taxes and literacy tests from more than 100 years ago, but now, whether it be in the form of tightening voter ID laws, restricting early voting, or simply calling black precincts and telling them not to bother coming out, it's the Republicans who are trying to keep people from the polls.
And a lot of it is happening right here in Florida -- to which West has said nothing. Studies have found in states with early-voting programs that those systems were used disproportionately by minorities who couldn't vote on the Tuesdays of elections; some minority demographics had turnout proportions three times higher on the Sunday before election day, according to Politico.
The L.A. Times explains what happened in Florida after Obama won the state:
Early voting was reduced from two weeks to one week. Voting on the Sunday before election day was eliminated. College students face new hurdles if they want to vote away from home. And those who register new voters face the threat of fines for procedural errors, prompting the nonpartisan League of Women Voters to suspend voter registration drives and accuse the Legislature of "reverting to Jim Crow-like tactics."
What is happening in Florida is part of a national trend, as election law has become a fierce partisan battleground. In states where Republicans have taken majority control, they have tightened rules for registering new voters, reduced the time for casting ballots and required voters to show photo identification at the polls. The new restrictions were usually adopted on party-line votes and signed by Republican governors.
Those Republicans don't exactly sound like champions of voting rights -- Florida Republicans took the extra step and used fines to get groups to just stop registering people. Republicans like to say it's to prevent voter fraud. It's not.
Though it's not racism that drives the efforts, either -- it's strategy, to help Republicans at the polls. It's a simple demographic analysis of voting habits that West has brought up countless times: Black people vote overwhelmingly for Democrats.
The way West (and many other Republicans) presents the fact, however, you'd have no idea African-Americans had any free will at all.
West has described his scenario multiple times as a "21st-century plantation," once calling himself a "modern-day Harriet Tubman" for trying to liberate black people from the oppression of the left wing.
"In recent years, it has been the Republican Party that has fought to prevent African-Americans from being trapped in a permanent underclass through dependence on government handouts," West said in his speech last week. "Helping black families break out of the cycle of welfare dependence."
West seems to think minorities support the Democrats not because of the right's abhorrent record on race and the lower class, but because they've been bribed, tricked by people with checks to tell them not to get jobs or follow their dreams.
"Mr. Speaker, what Republicans have long understood is that poor communities are best served when they're empowered to care for themselves," West said.
It's not clear, though, how West thinks Republicans are empowering anybody. How does he propose to get people onto his modern-day Underground Railroad? Encouraging more people to go to college could work, but Republicans opposed a measure to make student loans more affordable, and proposed another that would cut $3.6 billion from the Pell grant program.
Even if college isn't the answer, House Republicans also passed a budget last spring that would have gutted funding for job-training programs. How does this empowerment thing work again? Just take away food stamps and people will find a way to eat?
West also claimed two historical figures for the Republican party: abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Massachusetts Sen. Charles Sumner. West described Sumner as "a fierce abolitionist and leader of the radical republicans -- sounds very familiar when they start talking about Tea Party Republicans."
West might have just been coyly pandering, but Sumner stood up against slavery and was beaten with a cane so badly on the floor of the Senate that he was blinded by his own blood and passed out. What has the Tea Party done?
(It's also worth noting that Sumner, in the presidential election of 1872, supported the election of Republican Horace Greeley, a major proponent of American socialism. Doesn't sound any Tea Party member I've talked to.)
West said the desegregation of the military was the Republicans, too:
"It was the Republicans who first called for racial justice in the armed forces," West said, "Not only allowing black Americans to serve their country, but welcoming them to serve alongside their white brothers."
West doesn't exactly cite his sources here, but the executive order to desegregate the armed forces was signed by President Truman -- a Democrat. Maybe Republicans had a hand in it, but where is that quest for justice in the armed forces today?
When Don't Ask, Don't Tell was repealed and allowed gay servicemen and women to serve openly in the military alongside their straight brothers, the Republicans weren't as gung-ho to get justice. West himself said "now is not the time to appease a very small special interest group." West likewise did not denounce a Republican who said it was "just a matter of time" before gays "break down the military," because... he was the Republican who said it.
There are piles and piles of additional contradictions, but it would take far too many words to go through them all. Suffice it to say that proponents of gay marriage probably don't agree with his assertion that "Republicans have been on the front lines of the fight for equal rights," and people in his district are probably skeptical of him saying "real visionary leaders don't retreat from fights" a few weeks after he announced he was bailing on his congressional district to go to a more Republican-friendly one.
People can probably also find some faults with his praise for Frederick Douglass -- "a Republican" -- who "helped liberate women from the bonds of misogyny," while the modern-day Republicans do everything they can to tell women what medicines Jesus would want them to take.
If you want to see the speech: