Of human bondage and stupid sound bites

On Sunday, Allen West, not generally known for espousing profound, coherent viewpoints, took his wingnuttery to a whole new level.  In his typical belligerent manner, he declared that Social Security benefits were “slavery”.  No, really.

“Since June of 2009 or so, we have seen 2.4 million private sector jobs created, but we’ve had 3.1 million people going on Social Security disability and, as we said just this past month, the 85,000 went on Social Security disability as opposed to 80,000 jobs created,” West said during an appearance on Fox News, Politico reports.

“So once again we are creating the sense of economic dependence which, to me is a form of modern, 21st-century slavery,” West said.

Allen West is apparently equating slavery with “economic dependence”.  If we are to examine his metaphor, West seems to be arguing that 200 years ago, Africans were chaining themselves to boats and sailing across the ocean in droves, where they squatted on the estates of wealthy plantation owners until the beleaguered cotton growers provided them with economic support. Sadly, this kind of bombast is not unusual for Allen West.

He seems to fixate on antebellum southern imagery a lot, having once declared himself a “modern day Harriet Tubman” trying to lead blacks off of the “21st century plantation”.  It’s bad enough when clueless white politicians try to illustrate a point with casually delivered, arrogantly offensive comparisons to slavery, but for Allen West, a black man from the south, it’s exceptionally disturbing.

Allen West doesn’t think of himself as a modern day courier on the underground railroad, or that black support for the Democratic party represents a “plantation” mindset, or even that Social Security is slavery; that’s what makes it so wrong.  What he’s is doing is using the powerful and emotionally jarring imagery of oppression, in a cynical ploy to manipulate black voters toward his own worldview.  Rather than engage them with his own personal experience or philosophy, he’s trying to goad them with the equivalent of schoolyard taunts of cowardice.  Moreover, by casually tossing about slavery as an analogy for anything he doesn’t like, he gives license to other members of his party to do the same; thus, Rick Santorum and Michelle Bachmann have no qualms signing a marriage petition that blithely–and falsely–asserts that there was more family stability among blacks under slavery.  Rand Paul doesn’t blink comparing the Supreme Court decision on the ACA with Dred Scott.

Words matter.  Images matter.  Allen West knows this, which is what makes his cavalier use of a brutal and inhumane part of American history to score cheap political points so utterly reprehensible.  And make no mistake, this isn’t accidental, and doesn’t actually reflect anything he personally believes.  Allen West is a huckster, a charlatan, a brazen manipulator.  He’ll say whatever he has to to get what he wants, and clearly has no problem playing whatever card he wants, whichever way he wants, in the cynical pursuit of his aims.  Lest there be any doubt, one need look no further than an open letter he penned on Facebook in January, roughly midway chronologically between his “plantation” comments, and declaring social security to be slavery.  The title?  Mr. President, please don’t play the race card in 2012.

 

 

 

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