Rep. Allen West: Santayana’s Ghost claims another victim

April 16, 2012

It’s right there in the right ear of this weblog for all to see; George Santayana said,Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Rep. Allen West, from Florida’s newly created 18th Congressional District, is old enough to know better, but doesn’t:

The question was, how many American legislators does Rep. West think might be “card-carrying” communists.  He answered that 78 to 81 members of the Democratic Party are communists.

Okay, kids, what’s wrong with Rep. West’s claim?

Raoul?

Santayana's aphorism about those ignorant of history, on a plaque in a German subway

Wikimedia photo by Andy82: Caption: Citation of George Santayana at the U-Bahn (subway) Station Gesundbrunnen (Berlin). Translation: "Who does not know the past is condemned to repeat it". The poster above the citation advertises video surveillance. Translation: "Attention. video surveillance". The sign below the citation shows that the U-Bahn Station is a building of historic importance which stands under preservation order. Denkmal means literally memorial or monument

The only way Rep. West could know if anyone in any Democratic caucus is a communist is if Rep. West runs the membership office for the American Communist Party.

That’s probably true, Raoul.  I hadn’t thought about that — but it certainly calls into question just how Rep. West could know what he claims, doesn’t it?  What else is wrong with the claim?  Yes, Anna:

Wouldn’t a member of a third party caucus with their own party, and not with the Democrats?  I mean, even though he voted for the Democratic leadership, Bernie Sanders always let it be known that he was independent, and not a Democrat.  If there were 80 of them in Congress, wouldn’t they get special breaks on committee assignments as Communists?

Oh, Anna, all that time you spent reading the House Rules has made you the Master of Arcana, hasn’t it?  You’re probably right, though we can’t be sure — a third party with that many seats could almost swing a vote in the House — and so, as in Europe, they’d probably want to caucus together, so they could bargain for power with the other two larger parties, at least.  Good catch.  Not quite what I was looking for.  But it’s one more way that Rep. West looks a little silly, isn’t it?

Santayana on ignorance of history, at Auschwitz - Wikipedia image

From Wikipedia: A photograph of the plaque outside of the Auschwitz concentration camp reading: "KTO NIE PAMIẸTA HISTORII SKAZANY / JEST NA JEJ PONOWNE PRZEŻYCIE" / GEORGE SANTAYANA / "THE ONE WHO DOES NOT REMEMBER / HISTORY IS BOUND TO LIVE THROUGH IT / AGAIN" / GEORGE SANTAYANA

Mr. Begay?  Did you have your hand up?

How do you know Rep. West was talking about the House of Representatives?  He could have been talking about the Senate, couldn’t he?

Yes, and you’re getting closer to the the issue I’m thinking of.  If we just take his statement at face value, he could be including the Senate — does that suggest another line of analysis you should be thinking of, Davey?

What do you mean?  I don’t get it.

Did Rep. West limit his analysis to federal legislators?  Did he exclude state legislators?  The questioner just asked about how many “card-carrying” communists there are among legislators in the U.S.  There are 538 Members of Congress (100 senators, plus 435 representatives from the states, plus three delegates from D.C. and Guam and Puerto Rico). Plus, there are another 7,382 people in the state legislatures.  The questioner didn’t limit his question to Congress; did Rep. West limit his answer to Congress?  I doubt it.

Yes, Kwame?

Isn’t this claim dangerously close to that other dude . . . McCartney, or something?  McCarthy!  Joe McCarthy.  Isn’t this almost exactly what Joe McCarthy said?

Very similar — maybe it’s a long standing problem, do you think, Kwame?

No, no.  McCarthy falsely accused people.  Turned out the list he waved in West Virginia kept changing — how many communists there were, who was on the list. He was just grandstanding.  He didn’t really know what he was talking about.

And Rep. West?

Well, don’t we have better information now?

How is our information better today?

You know, with the NSA bugging everybody’s phone and reading everybody’s e-mails.  Don’t you think they’d know who is a communist and who is not?

What do you think?  Do the federal agencies have better tools today?  And if they did, does that make it a crime to yearn for a different political system?  Do communists have rights, like Republicans and Democrats do, to push for change through their preferred political party?  Does Rep. West have access to the NSA’s work?  Billy?

Rep. West knows what happened to Sen. McCarthy, right?  This looks like exactly the same sort of stuff McCarthy did, but surely he wouldn’t make false charges like McCarthy did, would he?

So you think that there are, secretly, 70 or 80 Members of Congress who are communists, working to overthrow the government of the U.S.?

Tell you what:  Let’s look at Sen. McCarthy’s original complaint, as he telegraphed it to President Truman from Nevada; and let’s look at Truman’s response [both courtesy of the Truman Library, "Telegram, Joseph McCarthy to Harry S. Truman, February 11, 1950, with Truman’s draft reply; McCarthy, Joseph; General File; PSF; Truman Papers"].


Six pages from Sen. McCarthy:

Sen. McCarthy to President Truman, telegraph on communists in State Dept, page 1 - Truman Library Image

Sen. McCarthy to President Truman, telegraph on communists in State Dept, page 1 - Truman Library Image

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 2

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 2

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 3

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 3

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 4

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 4

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 5

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 5

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 6

McCarthy to Truman telegram, page 6

And here is President Truman’s response, in draft form, before being sent as a telegram in reply:

Truman's response to Sen. McCarthy draft, February 1950 - Truman Library image

Truman's response to Sen. McCarthy draft, February 1950 - Truman Library image

So, knowing what you know about Sen. McCarthy, the Red Scare, the Cold War, and President Truman, what to you think of the accuracy of the claims McCarthy made?  Are the claims of Rep. West any better documented?

Santayana’s Ghost wonders whether you and I remember history correctly.

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