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There isn’t a scorecard big enough to keep track of all the offensive things conservatives and Republicans have said in just the past few years. The vitriol they have unleashed toward women, Islam, and the racialized attacks on President Obama have left some wondering if this is still 2011 or if the Republicans are stuck in some type of time warp that has left them stranded in 1951, where this level of bigotry may have been deemed “normal” and acceptable. And the points continue to rack up.

The most recent such incident involves two Florida congresspersons engaged in a debate over raising the debt ceiling. A plan set forth by House Republicans would include cuts to social programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) “took Rep. Allen West (R-FL) to task”: for his support of the bill, stating: “The gentleman from Florida, who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries, as do I, is supportive of this plan that would increase costs for Medicare beneficiaries, unbelievable from a Member from South Florida.”


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In an email response that was copied to members of congressional leadership, Rep. West took offense to the congresswoman’s remarks and referred to her as “vile and despicable” while also saying she had proven not to be a “lady” and therefore unworthy of his respect.

The sexism unleashed in West’s response has been decried by many, including five female Democratic members of the House who have called for him to apologize (He reportedly has, although there is some dispute over that).

This isn’t the first time West has traveled down this road of controversy. In the past he has attacked Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American elected to Congress, for being what West characterized as the “antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established” based solely on his religious beliefs.

West does not recognize Islam as a religion, but rather as “a totalitarian theocratic political ideology….It has not been a religion since 622 AD, and we need to have individuals that stand up and say that.”

He’s not alone in his crusade against Islam. GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain has been quite vocal in his opposition to all things Islamic, recently sitting down Fox News’ Sunday anchor Chris Wallace to voice his support for the citizens of Murfreesboro, Tenn. to halt the construction of a mosque (even though the mosque has existed at nearby site for nearly 20 years).

Cain said that any community across the country has the “right” to ban the a mosque because Islam represents “both a religion and a set of laws, sharia law” which, to him, marks the difference “between any one of our other traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes,” an argument easily debunked by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson. The rhetoric is far from new or unexpected, but what is notable about these hateful outbursts is that they come from two black members of the Republican party. While their white counterparts have somewhat tamed their messages and toned down the obvious bigotry (not always, but they seem to make an effort), these two prominent black Republicans have spoken with reckless abandon.

This could be the result of a few different things. First, and perhaps most ironically, this is their attempt to prove to the Republican base and their Tea Party supporters that they are indeed true conservatives. President Obama has had to jump through hoops no other president has ever gone through to prove his “American-ness” and it mostly boils down to a racial identity issue.

Cain and West are going through a similar path on the other side of the aisle, having to prove their conservative bona fides in a political landscape that assumes African-American support always lies with the Democratic party (or Democratic “plantation” according to Cain). They are essentially performing for their supposedly “color-blind” ideological mates a hyper-conservative dance to prove their allegiances and loyalty before they are questioned.


Or it’s a possible this is a policy that Republicans tend to support in their economic approach: outsourcing the jobs they don’t want to brown people. It’s politics, and the Republican base is made up of fiscal and social conservatives alike, but leaning on those culture war issues will not be the key to winning over the vast majority of the electorate voting from the “center.”

In an attempt to hold the base and still appeal to the broader American public, it might be that Republicans have deployed their black members to do the dirty work of holding on to the bigoted vote (assuming they have protection from ridicule precisely because of their race) while the candidates they take more seriously learn to placate the middle.

No matter what the source of these vicious and hateful comments, what remains is that they have no place in the political discourse. It is particularly disheartening that they come from African-Americans, who so often find themselves the blame for the ills of this country. While it may win over a few conservative voters, it disrespects the legacy of all those who have and continue to fight for freedom from all forms of oppression and hatred.

Cain and West have used their positions within the GOP not to further democratize the two-party system and add fresh voices to a stale ideology, but in order to mimic the basest and most disrespectful aspects therein. If this is the role black Republicans have to play, it’s no wonder so few exist to begin with.

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