It’s been clear for a while that Allen West is a very angry man.
In 2003, while serving as a battalion commander in Iraq, West oversaw the beating of an Iraqi policeman, Yehiya Kadoori Hamoodi, who he thought had information about potential attacks on his troops. When Hamoodi failed to give him the intelligence he sought—intelligence that, it turned out, Hamoodi didn’t have—West decided to simulate an execution, firing a gun next to Hamoodi’s head. The Army contemplated a court martial, though in the end West was simply relieved of his command and fined $5,000. He has since portrayed the incident as a brave decision to flout the rules for the sake of his men, but there’s evidence that he simply lost it: In a statement shortly after the incident, he wrote, “In my anger, I couldn't remember how many shots were fired.”
Since then, West’s intemperance has made him a hero to the Tea Party, which thrills to his vituperative attacks on political enemies. No other congressman sounds so much like a right-wing talk show host. Islam, he’s said, is a “very vile and very vicious enemy.” Liberal women, he claimed, helped cause the debt by “neutering American men,” which apparently undermined their fiscal rectitude. Earlier this week, he concluded a column by writing, “I must confess, when I see anyone with an Obama 2012 bumper sticker, I recognize them as a threat to the gene pool.”
West’s admirers see his barbed words the same way they see his attack on Hamoodi, as evidence of a heroic willingness to put himself on the line for his ideals. But his recent email attack on fellow Florida representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, coupled with his alternately defensive and defiant reaction to the ensuing controversy, suggest that he might really simply be a volatile person with a victim complex and an out-of-control temper.
The strange thing about the Wasserman Schultz incident isn’t just the crazy email West sent, but the relatively anodyne speech that inspired his rage. It all began on Tuesday, when West made a floor speech in favor of the conservative Cut, Cap and Balance act. In response, Wasserman Schultz, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, stood up and reiterated Democratic objections to the plan, which would slash federal spending to pre-Medicare levels. “Incredulously, the gentleman from Florida who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs to Medicare beneficiaries,” she said. “Unbelievable from a member from South Florida.”
This was hardly an ad hominem assault, though West interpreted it that way. That afternoon, he sent her an email, cc’ed to the House leadership, with the subject heading, “Unprofessional and Inappropriate Sophomoric Behavior from Wasserman-Schultz.” Calling her “the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable” member of Congress, he ordered her to “shut the heck up,” before concluding, “You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!”
No other congressman sounds so much like a right-wing talk show host.
Since then, West has continued to behave erratically. First he told reporters, falsely, that he had apologized to Wasserman Schultz. Then he went on Mark Levin’s radio show and claimed he was being smeared because he’s black, a particularly rich charge given how often he accuses Democrats of playing the race card. “The thing that really most aggravates me is that there’s this double standard,” he said. “And the people on the hard left can continue to attack conservatives, and especially minority conservatives and female conservatives. And yet when all of a sudden you stand up and you say that you will not tolerate this anymore, then they claim to be a victim.” Speaking to Fox Business Network, he accused Wasserman Schultz of leaking a “private email”—an absurd charge, given the fact that he was the one who cc’ed it to several others.
Wasserman Schultz has actually been driving West nuts for a while now. Their feud goes back to last year, when she called him out for his association with the misogynist biker magazine Wheels on the Road, where he wrote a monthly column. An October 2010 issue that he contributed to also ran a piece that said, “Can someone PLEAZZZZZZZZE get rid of Debbie Wasserman Shitz?...That yenta annoys the crap out of me with just her whining voice. Guys, can you imagine banging her (UGGGGGGGGG) and she’s screaming at the top of her lungs!!!” In response, Wasserman Schultz led a protest outside West’s campaign headquarters, which he saw as an intolerable act of disrespect. “[U]nderstand that I shall defend myself forthright against your heinous characterless behavior……which dates back to the disgusting protest you ordered at my campaign hqs,” he wrote in his recent email.
He’s going to have to get used to such protests. Lois Frankel, the former West Palm Beach mayor who is challenging West next year, has put up a website, WestHatesWomen.com, demanding that he both apologize and donate $1,000 to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “It may seem a little harsh, but it’s backed up by this man’s rhetoric and by his votes,” she says. “Sometimes your true character comes out in your anger. So when you’re angry and your response is sexist and demeaning, that tells you something.”