Commentary: Rep. Allen West attempts a makeover

The Miami HeraldNovember 2, 2012 

HIAASEN CARL

Carl Hiaasen is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

TIM CHAPMAN — MCT/Miami Herald

After less than two years in Congress, Rep. Allen West has raised $15 million to get himself re-elected.

That’s a mountain of money, but you’d need every dime if your job was to make West look like a calm, responsible person.

His whack-job ranting hasn’t hurt him among the Tea Party faithful, but it threatens the prospects of the 51-year-old Republican since he switched to a new district that includes Martin and St. Lucie counties and part of Palm Beach.

The task for West’s campaign managers is daunting because he has said so many phenomenally offensive and factually indefensible things. Every time the man opens his mouth there’s a moment of high drama:

Please, Al, just stick to the script. We’re begging you.

Back in July, appearing as he does with hungry regularity on Fox News, West likened Social Security disability benefits to “a form of modern, 21st-century slavery.”

In one cold-hearted breath, the retired Army colonel managed to insult 828,000 fellow veterans under the age of 66 who report receiving disability funds from Social Security. These include both active-duty and retired military.

West’s lame effort to mop up his mess occurred the following night (again on Fox), and featured his now-standard attack on the liberal media for twisting his words.

The recurring migraine for West’s handlers is that his words don’t require any twisting. They just spill out of his head that way, usually in front of a television camera, allowing them to be painfully replayed over and over.

It’s been a gold mine for West’s young Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy, whose most effective campaign ads are a running montage of West’s indelible sound bites.

A favorite is his 2011 speech to a conservative women’s group in which he declared that those who support Planned Parenthood “have been neutering American men and bringing us to the point of this incredible weakness.”

What in the world was West babbling about? Are there mandatory spay clinics for guys?

Who knows what he meant, but it was weirdly fascinating to watch.

He actually went on — and some of this you don’t see in the commercial — to urge his audience “to let them know that we are not going to have our men become subservient . . . because if you don’t, then the debt will continue to grow . . . deficits will continue to grow.”

Oh, now it all makes perfect sense.

Is West insane? That’s a natural question, but the answer is no. He’s just a fringe gasbag who spices his macho act with a little right-wing paranoia.

Still, it’s possible he really believes that American men are being psychologically emasculated by evil birth-control advocates, and that this is somehow responsible for the nation’s budget deficit.

Likewise, it’s possible West was dead serious when he told a Jensen Beach town hall meeting last April:

“I believe there’s about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party who are members of the Communist Party. It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”

This was a stupendously dumb remark in a community where many are old enough to remember Sen. Joe McCarthy. (Among the current House members whose patriotism West attacked is a Lutheran farmer from Maine, that well-known hotbed of sedition.)

You can see the problem facing West’s campaign team, and you can see why it needs at least $15 million.

This is not an easy makeover.

What do you do with a guy who blogs that voters with Obama bumper stickers are “a threat to the gene pool”?

There are many Obama stickers to be seen in the 18th District along Florida’s Treasure Coast, a fact lost on the arrogant West though not on his pollsters.

Unsurprisingly, most of his money is coming from outside the state.

He’s raised about five times more than Murphy, thanks partly to big checks from the PACs of Exxon Mobil, Northrup-Grumman, Citizens United and OSI Restaurant Partners, which owns Outback and Carrabba’s.

Floridians who buy their groceries at Publix Super Markets might be interested to learn that the company’s executives apparently have no problem with West’s wild slurs. So far Publix has sent him $12,500, through individuals and PACs.

The question is, will all that be enough?

Can $15 million create in the minds of voters a new, unembarrassing Allen West?

If not, he’ll know who to blame:

Planned Parenthood, the secret Communists in Congress, and all those slaves getting disability checks.

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