Rep. Allen West gave the keynote address at CPAC on Saturday, and was typically effective. Politicolikened his performance
to the throwing of "red meat" to the massed conservatives. It's a good metaphor. His speech drew the loudest applause in its bloodiest moments -- those moments in which West deployed his greatest political gift, and cleaved Us from Them, and Right from Wrong, in terms of comic book simplicity.
West delayed the proper beginning of his speech with a bit of jingoist theater, introducing Sgt. Jason Aubon (I may be misspelling that), a veteran of Iraq now responsible for training troops to guard the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. "The reason I'm here," said Sgt. Aubon, an earnest quiver in his voice, "is because I have a bigger fear for my future ... than I did back in Baghdad. And the reason I'm here is that I believe in the Colonel."
This drew rapturous applause, and framed West as someone to be believed in; as someone upon whom hopes may be pinned.
West then began his address. He bitched for a moment about his treatment at the hands of the liberal media, and then explained for us what conservatism isn't. Quoting Lincoln, he said:
'What is conservatism? Is it not the adherence to the old and tired against the new and untried?' I would say this, if Abraham Lincoln was standing here today: Liberal progressivism ... has been tried. It has repeatedly failed, all over the world. So why would we think it can be successful here, in our United States of America?
We haven't even gotten to the meat of West's address, and yet we may already sense the giddy fuckery he is about to inflict upon our shared history. "Liberal progressivism" has failed indeed, if by that West means "Maoist China" or "the Soviet Union." Happily, there are no Maoists or Stalinists in America. The people who might call themselves "liberal" or "progressive" are ordinary Americans who might appreciate a tax code more reminiscent of that of the American 1950s, and a government as efficient, and as concerned for the citizenry's well-being, as those of modern-day Sweden or Denmark. If those states are failures, we ought to worry less about success.
With the bulk of western civilization thusly consigned to the trashbin of history, West set about defining the "three pillars" of conservatism (which he sometimes calls "conservativism"). First: "Effective and efficient constitutional government." West quoted Jefferson: "My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government." West asked his audience if America would be better off with a bureaucratic nanny state. "No!" said the audience. No argument here.
The second pillar of conservatism and/or conservativism is apparently "peace through strength." "Political correctness has no place in our national security," said West. "...Truth is not subjective, and facts do not lie, and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. A new America, a secure America means that we cannot afford to have a 21st century Neville Chamberlain moment." While West didn't clarify what such a moment would look like, or what might constitute a superior, Churchillian moment, I find once more that I've got no argument. West also offered a balanced, sane, if unsubtle commentary on Egypt, praising the protesters of Tahrir Square while cautioning listeners to temper their idealism. Egypt could still turn out badly.
If the speech ended there, I would now be praising the emergence of a new, less-crazy Allen West. No such luck. Before turning to his third pillar, West earned massive ovations by opposing nuclear disarmament and described China as an enemy of the United States. "China is still a Communist country," he said, "which is using capitalism as a weapon against us." Naturally, West didn't bother to wonder how well our version of capitalism would have functioned for the last two decades if the Chinese hadn't been around to underwrite it. (Like Stalinist Russia during the hideous Five Year Plan, China's Communist-in-name-only government has done more for American "capitalism" than any pro-business legislation could hope to.)
Then West came to conservatism/conservativisms third pillar -- "Never abandon our values" -- and promptly lost his mind.
Without our values, West explained, we are "incomplete as an American people." And so we ought to "honor our language," and "celebrate the diversity of the melting pot called America," while never allowing "multiculturalism to grow on steroids and define itself as making American culture subservient. Because, yes, there is a definitive American culture."
How telling is that word, "definitive." Unlike saying that America has a "definite" culture -- which would indicate that the United States has a culture distinct from any other -- to say it is "definitive" means that it is finished, closed off, unavailable for improvement, rejiggering, evolution or adaptation. A "definitive" culture is ready for enshrinement in a glass case, where it will be unaffected by the wishes of the polity. Since this is a pretty good encapsulation of Allen West's entire political philosophy -- "Hands off my America!" -- I'm going to assume it wasn't a slip of the tongue.
A moment later, West offered some standard-issue anti-abortion rhetoric before laying out his argument against gay marriage:
We must hold sacred the privilege of the institution of marriage ... to promote the promulgation of our society. Because we cannot allow the destruction of the American family ... And why is that important? Because if you break down the American family, that leads to government dependency, which leads to the growth of government, which leads and results in greater government spending.
It's economics! We must keep the gays from marrying to shrink the welfare rolls!
Perhaps sensing the horribleness of his argument, West did some quick patriotic padding: "When America expanded westward," he cried, "it were men and women with their children in wagons, going across the Mississippi River and spreading this great nation! Do not ever forget the bond of this great nation!"
Even a few of the CPACkers must have balked at this. Wouldn't gay male couples have pioneered at least as effectively as married ones? Furthermore, weren't most pioneers male? Wasn't there all kinds of desperate buggery during westward expansion? Does Allen West even think about this shit before he says it?
"If we are to have a new dawn in America," continued West:
...it means reclaiming our Judeo-Christian faith heritage. John Adams said, 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions, unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is totally inadequate to the government of any other.' This is not about a separation of church and state; it is about making sure that we do not separate faith from the individual. We must never forget that the American motto is 'In God We Trust.'
It's worth noting here that John Adams wrote the above words in a letter to a group of soldiers whom he was admonishing to behave themselves. Adams himself was a Christian only tenuously; he believed all world religions had more-or-less equal claims to truth, though he had a special admiration for Jesus. Adams' inclination being towards ecumenical Unitarianism, this letter's words are atypical of the man. What's typical is the letter's subtle intellectual dishonesty. Adams was famously contemptuous of the rabble, and at one point during his presidency tried to suspend freedom of the press. When he wrote these words, Adams was locked in a bitter, years-long political fight with Thomas Jefferson, who was not only un-Christian, but anti-Christian. It is very likely that Adams was trying to draw a distinction between the two of them, and draw attention to his own relative godliness.
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But knowing all of this, never mind thinking about it, isn't something Allen West expects of his audience. You can tell, because West quotes no one quite so often as the anti-Christian (and therefore un-American) Thomas Jefferson. West is content to skate over such inconsistencies, and drown a listener's dissenting thoughts beneath tidal waves of applause. "We welcome the beliefs of others in America," he said, near the end of his talk, "but our co-existance must be based on a simple premise: When tolerance becomes a one-way street, it leads to cultural suicide."
Agreed! Though in what way Christian America has become marginalized is anyone's guess. Recent events in Allen West's own life reflect no marginalization: He's got half the country in his hands, and a lot of us expect him to run for much, much higher office. In all of America, you'd be hard pressed to find someone less disenfranchised.
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