Blog of Rights

That's a Good Question?!

By Gabe Rottman, Legislative Counsel, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 7:51pm

So, Rep. Allen West—Republican from 1955—is apparently trying to single-handedly refight the Cold War. At an event today, somebody asked the Florida lawmaker how many members of Congress are “card-carrying Marxists.” His answer: “[n]o, it’s a good question. I believe there is about 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party that are members of the Communist Party. . . . It’s called the Congressional Progressive Caucus.”

First, ROTFL.

Second, the ACLU really should trademark the whole “card-carrying” thing.

Third, just fyi, Marxists aren’t necessarily the same as Communists and Communists aren’t necessarily the same as socialists. So, let’s get our ideological buckets and political parties straight, sir.

Fourth, even if this hilarious statement is true, which it obviously is not, who cares? This is the post-McCarthy-era. The days of red-baiting are (or should be) long past, especially among our elected representatives.

Finally, and for serious, while Congressman West also has a First Amendment right to make funny jokes about fifth columns (the old-timey term for secret Soviet sympathizers), this is dangerous stuff, and we forget that at our peril. Loyal and patriotic Americans lost lives and livelihoods during the Red Scares simply because of what they believed or, just as bad, because the people who “named names” named their name. While there was certainly a threat of Soviet espionage (a threat long gone in 2012), the tragedy of the Communist witch-hunts must never be repeated.

Ring Lardner Jr., Oscar-winning screenwriter of M*A*S*H, faced questioning in 1947 from the House Un-American Activities Committee, or HUAC, which originally formed in World War II to investigate fascism and morphed in the early years of the Cold War into a showboating Communist hunter.

Asked the infamous question, “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Lardner, invoking his First Amendment rights, said, “I could answer [the question], but if I did, I would hate myself in the morning.” He was held in contempt, fined, jailed for a year in federal prison in Connecticut, and wasn’t able to work in Hollywood for almost 20 years. All for attempting to exercise his constitutional right to believe as his conscience dictated.

While we would be the first to acknowledge Representative West’s right to speak his mind (and we do hope this was tongue in cheek), it’s incredible that he would echo the words of that inglorious past.


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