On Wednesday, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) threatened to leave the Congressional Black Caucus after Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) claimed that the Tea Party movement wants African-Americans “hanging from trees.” In response to his request that CBC chairman Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) condemn the remarks, the CBC has dismissed its lone Republican member’s concerns.
Given that that the Democratic-dominated CBC actively campaigned against his Congressional bid in the first place and regularly attacks his political party, Rep. West – who is also a member of the Tea Party Caucus – presumably wonders whether CBC membership is worth the hassle. However, there are several reasons why Rep. West should stay put in the caucus.
As one of the very few conservatives / Republicans to serve in the CBC in its 40-year history, Rep. West has an obligation to tough it out. After all, he is no stranger to dropping provocative comments, even about other CBC members. Nor is he above deploying his own race card to score political points. If he dropped out after only eight months in the CBC, it would give the appearance that Rep. West can dish out harsh political criticism but not take it.
Such a move would undermine the firebrand image that the former Army lieutenant colonel has cultivated in his political career, as well as his political capital. The liberal meme that would surely result from his CBC exit would be, “He can do military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, but can’t take a little criticism?”
More importantly, Rep. West doesn’t only represent Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. He is also the CBC’s lone voice for the 21 percent of black Americans who support limited government policies providing fewer social services (among African-Americans who attend historically black churches, the figure is 18 percent). If he quits the CBC, then 1 in 5 black Americans will have no representation within Congress’s only black institution.
When Rep. West joined the CBC in January, he stated, ”’[I] bring a different perspective, but I think we’re all working toward the same end, which is what is best for our country and within the African-American community.” It is those words which he should keep in mind in his future dealings within the CBC.
Rep. West recently stated that he was like “the modern-day Harriet Tubman” in his desire to lead blacks to a different policy-oriented Promised Land. While Rep. West’s situation is nowhere comparable to the immense barriers that Tubman faced during the slavery era, he can draw inspiration from his idol’s life story about not walking away in times of distress and apply it to today’s political challenges.
Creating a Congressional Black Caucus that more accurately reflects the range of black America’s views is a tall order. Nevertheless, it is a worthy battle that Rep. West must undertake to help aid transformational change within black America. The CBC must continually be reminded by Rep. West’s presence and advocacy that diversifying one’s ranks doesn’t just entail racial diversity, but also ideological diversity.
Just as the CBC expects America’s organizations and businesses to be inclusive of blacks, so too must it be more inclusive of non-liberal and non-Democratic Party points of view.
Diverse views enrich the CBC, and promote the further maturation of that body as a political force. Different perspectives help facilitate a wider choice of possible solutions to the challenges facing black America. If he dropped out of the CBC, Rep. West would also cede the discussion of the racial effects of public policies as the sole terrain of the political Left.
Ideological diversity is also critical to the CBC serving its stated mission: “to ensure that all Americans, regardless of race, color or creed have the chance to pursue and achieve the American dream” and to “be a voice for the voiceless”. Rep. West is doing exactly that by being a voice for center-right black Americans, and helping to ensure that we’re included at the policy-making table.