The Edwards/West Black and Jewish Show

The Edwards/West Black and Jewish Show

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Interesting and somewhat complex Capitol Hill back story that surfaced recently amid the payroll tax cut mess that’s taking up political space before the holidays.  The Washington Informer reports:

Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards (D-MD) has introduced a privileged resolution of the House disapproving of comments made by Congressman Allen West (R-FL).

A Republican motion to table the resolution was passed by the House by a vote of 231-188. Politico quoted West on Dec. 15 as saying, “If Joseph Goebbels was around, he’d be very proud of the Democrat Party because they have an incredible propaganda machine.”

West later reiterated his comments in a letter to Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) saying, “The Democrat Party does indeed have a vicious propaganda machine, it espouses lies and deceit and the Master of deceptive information would be truly proud.”

“The outrageous and insensitive remarks made by Rep. West have no place in our nation’s political discourse,” said Edwards. “This privileged resolution states clearly that this distasteful behavior cannot and will not be tolerated in the House of Representatives.”

Both Edwards and West, it just so happens, are Members of the Congressional Black Caucus.  That West made the comments in the first place raises a number of issues for the Florida member as he’ll attempt to capture a second term in 2012.  Certainly, it’s not the type of heat he wants in a district that could turn against him as quick as it did his opponent and former incumbent Rep. Ron Kline (D-FL).

But, it’s interesting that Edwards’ didn’t handle the matter as an internal CBC affair, turning instead to a public microphone as a way to draw contrition from West.  Typically, you won’t find CBC members blasting one another in public, especially where a Member outright formally condemns another fellow Member in a resolution.  We did witness many tensions come to a head during the 2008 Democratic primary as Members struggled to make a decision on whether to endorse their former Member then Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) over then Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY). That’s was one of the more prominent examples of ugly public feuding between caucus Members.

The other examples are when Black Republican Members engage in sometimes sophomoric or unnecessary public battles with the Caucus.  We’ve seen this happen with others such as former Rep. Gary Franks (R-CT) and former Rep. J.C. Watts (R-OK) in which they complain about being left out of CBC affairs and meetings or being unfairly ostracized because of their party affiliation.  This is, perhaps, one of the main reasons Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) passed on membership into the Caucus although an invitation was extended (and the House GOP rewarded the move with an unprecedented appointment onto the Republican leadership team).  Scott, somewhat low key anyway, didn’t feel like the drama nor did he want to raise any suspicions from his very white conservative South Carolina district.

In this particular instance, the unapologetic Black conservative firebrand with the national Tea Party following is, once again, falling back into his signature style.  But, it’s a fellow African American Member who condemns him for it, rather than, say, a Jewish Democratic Member such as current DNC Chair Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (D-FL) presuming that would be the community most directly impacted by West’s comments.  Not that Edwards’ resolution is wrong, but there is something political behind the motives.

Incidentally, both West and Edwards represent districts with large and very active (and voting) Jewish populations.  West, at some point, is going to answer for his comments – if he hasn’t already – before a weary audience of Jewish constituents.  But, what may save him is that he’s very pro-Israel to the point where he’s comfortably anti-Muslim and anti-anything or anybody that’s against Israel. He’s on the record quite a bit defending Israel and pretty much wanting to blow up the Jewish state’s enemies. Lack of outrage or backlash from his Jewish constituents may also signal some trouble for Democrats, particularly President Obama.  It’s not the kind of signal you want in a key swing state like Florida. With the Administration viewed by many in the Jewish community as unfriendly to Israel, West may have seen an opening to solidify that particular segment of the community behind him as a way to offset shaky Tea Party support.  Plus, the Tea Party is not that popular these days, anyway. We’ll see how it plays out.

Edwards, a Black Democrat and well-known progressive, is dealing with a similar issue … in reverse.  Her 24th district in Maryland, a redistricting debacle at one point, houses a very active Jewish community that constitutes 15 percent of the district’s population.  And, since she won the seat in 2008 – in a stunning upset that unseated Prince George’s County political kingmaker Rep. Al Wynn (D-MD) – her relationship with that community, primarily based on the neighboring and much White Montgomery County side of the district, has been somewhat frayed.  Read all about it in a 2009 Politico article devoted entirely to that subject.  They’ve been viewing her with as much suspicion as some view President Obama on the topic of Israel.  Also complicating affairs is the emergence of former Prince George’s County state’s attorney Glenn Ivey, still a popular and telegenic figure who was once a daily fixture on the local TV circuit.  Ivey recently filed papers to run against Edwards, something that’s got her extremely nervous.

Thus, she pulls that familiar routine typically sending ripples through the conversation on race: a Black “leader” or elected official condemning another Black “leader” or public figure for remarks perceived as “anti-Semitic.”  West may want to take a page from Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan on how to crisis manage that should it spin out of control.  For now, he and Edwards both find themselves in the delicate aftertaste of that very unique, yet troubled relationship between the Black and Jewish community.  The fact that West is a Republican makes it even easier for Edwards to do since he’s considered marginal and outside the Black political “mainstream.”

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