This Is Why Allen West Will Not Be Romney's Running Mate

The outspoken Florida representative sets off a mild firestorm by saying about 80 Democratic legislators are card-carrying Marxists or socialists.

Herman Cain -- remember him? -- made a minor splash earlier this week when he floated Florida Rep. Allen West's name as a potential vice presidential nominee. There are a number of reasons why that wasn't going to happen, including but not limited to his short record in government (a single term in the House), a near court-martial while serving in Iraq, and a history of inflammatory statements. But sure, here's another.

West, who faces a tough reelection struggle after redistricting, was in Palm City on Tuesday night speaking to voters. He was asked, "What percentage of the American legislature do you think are card-carrying Marxists or international socialists?" Here's how the Palm Beach Post reported it:

The conservative tea party icon also got in shots at Democrats and President Obama, who spoke Tuesday at Florida Atlantic University. West said Obama was "scared" to have a discussion with him. He later said "he's heard" up to 80 U.S. House Democrats are Communist Party members, but wouldn't name names.

West complained that he was taken out of context by the paper, and the video above vindicates him: After a very long pause, he explained that he means the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a group of the most liberal members of the House and Senate.

Point: West! The reporter clearly left off an important part of the answer, whether out of malice or simple oversight.

But this is a good case of winning the battle and losing the war. It's not any less McCarthyist to accuse 78 to 81 members of the House of Representatives of being Communists simply because you were willing to indicate who they were (also, the audience-generated question is creepy, with its "card-carrying members" phraseology). For one thing, it's pretty silly to argue that nearly half of a Democratic delegation that has effectively conceded that Clinton-era tax levels were too high consists of pinkos (with one notable exception: Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the only Senate member of the CPC, actually is a self-described socialist). And does anyone even carry party cards anymore?

Perhaps West was going for laughs, but there were no chuckles from the audience and the congressman kept a straight face after delivering his would-be punchline. Either way, it's odd to be red-baiting in 2012.

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David A. Graham is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic, where he oversees the Politics Channel. He previously reported for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, and The National.

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