On Monday afternoon, as markets fretted over the possibility of the United States government running out of money to pay its creditors, Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) held a briefing on a crisis that could bring the nation to its knees. "This is about the protection of each and every American citizen who ever resides within our borders," West told the audience in the basement of Rayburn House Office Building.
West wasn't there to talk about Congress' apparent inability to raise the debt ceiling, though. He was there to introduce Peter Leitner of Citizens for National Security, an organization based in Boca Raton, Florida, that is dedicated to raising awareness of the threat of Islamic extremism in American communities. The group, which previously tried to ferret out perceived Islamic bias in Florida public-school textbooks, had been invited by West to present the findings of its latest report: "Homegrown Jihad in the USA: Muslim Brotherhood's Deliberate, Premediated Plan Now Reaching Maturity." CFNS claims to have a list of 6,000 members of the Muslim Brotherhood who are living in America and determined to "penetrate the United States and eventually erode its institutions, policies, and sense of self through the creation of a multifaceted Fifth Column movement within our borders."
That's a serious charge, and in a 45-minute presentation, Leitner backed it up with a series of charts that linked various Muslim organizations, from Hezbollah to the Muslim Students Association, in one giant, overarching conspiracy bent on "destroying the United States as it currently stands."
Two days after it was discovered that Anders Breivik, the Oslo gunman, was an admirer of America's leading anti-Islam activists—including CFNS advisory committee member Daniel Pipes—the American anti-Sharia movement showed no sign of mellowing. Leitner dismissed Breivik ("a bizarre Norwegian farmer") as a nutcase, but, like a number of prominent conservative commentators, allowed that he might nonetheless have been on to something. "He may be correct that there's a certain kind of a threat that we face, depending on his view," Leitner said in response to a challenge from a Muslim audience member, "but he fits the lines of a classic lunatic."
The battle between Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has mostly been a one-sided affair thus far. As Bachmann has jumped to the top of the polls in Iowa and Pawlenty has plummeted, the former governor has stepped up his criticisms of Bachmann, arguing that she's never actually accomplished anything during her decade as a legislator. Bachmann has largely stayed mum, but now, perhaps spying a chance to drive a stake through an opponent who's polling at 2 percent nationally, she's gone on the attack. Here's what she emailed to supporters on Sunday:
Actions speak louder than words. When I was fighting against the unconstitutional individual mandate in healthcare, Governor Pawlenty was praising it. I have fought against irresponsible spending while Governor Pawlenty was leaving a multi-billion-dollar budget mess in Minnesota. I fought cap-and-trade. Governor Pawlenty backed cap-and-trade when he was Governor of Minnesota and put Minnesota into the multi-state Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord. While Governor Pawlenty was praising TARP—the $700 billion bailout in 2008—I worked tirelessly against it and voted against it.
Hey, this Pawlenty guy doesn't sound so bad! The cap-and-trade and TARP hits were a given—Pawlenty likes to refer to those positions as his "clunkers"—but the budget criticism is something new, and it's especially noteworthy because Pawlenty's claims of balancing budgets and cutting spending are his top talking points on the campaign trail. On this front, Bachmann is right. As I've reported, Pawlenty balanced Minnesota's budget through a series of tricky accounting maneuvers. He would defer payments or take out loans that didn't need to be paid off until after his term was over. Most glaringly, his push to cut taxes and spending at the state level forced local governments to pick up the slack, so real spending did not actually decline. A little bit of accounting wizardry is necessary sometimes; most governors do it. But it's not what comes to mind when you think of the "tough choices" Pawlenty has promised.
Up until now, though, fellow Republicans have been reluctant to call Pawlenty out on his budget bluster, likely because their own ideas are mathematically flawed to some degree. The Paul Ryan budget (which Bachmann supports) would require raising the debt ceiling (which Bachmann opposes). And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, seen as Bachmann's top rival in Iowa should he jump in the race, recently employed more or less the Pawlenty method to balance the state's budget. As the AP described it, Texas relied on "accounting maneuvers, rewriting school funding laws, ignoring a growing population and delaying payments on bills coming due in 2013."
On Wednesday, Florida GOP Rep. Allen West dashed off an unhinged email rant to Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), in which he called her "vile" and "not a lady." That was kind of standard operating procedure for West, who has previously called President Obama a "low-level socialist agitator." And it reminded me of another Allen West email incident in June, in which the congressman trashed his local alt-weekly, the Broward-Palm Beach New Times, in his weekly constituent newsletter. The paper had, in good humor, chided West for violating a federal law—Title 4, Chapter 1, Section 8, Subsection B of the United States Code—by bringing an American flag underwater on a diving expedition with military veterans.
It appears that my taking a U.S. flag down to a sunken wreck (artificial reef) for us all to take pictures and video just riled up some idiot Liberals looking for anything to criticize when it comes to me. Well, doggone sorry, perhaps next time I will put on a tie-dyed shirt and jeans, dance around singing anti-war, anti-American songs, and burn a flag. Perhaps that would endear me to the delusional dummies out there who are probably just jealous because they cannot dive to 80 ft into a hard current and proudly carry an American flag. What a bunch of losers!
Meanwhile, West hasn't backed down from his aggressive language, telling Fox News yesterday that "[T]here are certain ways we talk in the military. I guess I haven't learned the DC-insider talk."
Well, that was inevitable. Following previous attempts to "glitter-bomb" former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich for their opposition to gay marriage, a band of Minnesota LGBT activists descended on a Bachmann & Associates Christian counseling clinic on Thursday in an attempt to dump glitter on Rep. Michele Bachmann's husband, Marcus. The clinic, which is co-owned by the GOP presidential candidate, has been under scrutiny in recent weeks over reports that it practices "reparative therapy," a potentially harmful procedure in which therapists attempt to cure homosexuality through prayer. (The practice is rejected by major psychiatric and psychological associations.)
Per Think Progress, protesters dressed up as barbarians—a nod to Marcus Bachmann's statement in a 2010 radio interview that gay children, like "barbarians," "need to be educated"—and shouted "You can't pray away the gay—baby, I was born this way!" Mr. Bachmann, the intended recipient, was not there.
Rep. Bachmann was herself the target of an attempted glittering at last month's RightOnline conference in Minneapolis.
By now you've read about Florida GOP Rep. Allen West's unhinged email rant, in which he told Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, who represents his neighboring congressional district, that "you have proven repeatedly that you are not a lady." (He also called her "vile, unprofessional, and dispicable.") West has since either apologized or not apologized, depending on whom you talk to, but one thing is indisputable: He and his opponents are going to milk this baby for all its worth.
On Wednesday, West fired off a fundraising email to supporters, painting himself as the target of the Democratic attack machine; Democratic groups like EMILY's List did their best to capitalize on the moment as well.
West says stuff like this all the time though, which raises the question: Is his crazy talk a political asset, or a liability? As it happens, Case Western Reserve University political scientist Justin Buchler has released a study (PDF) that answers almost that exact question:
[T]his paper proposes a measure of infamy for Members of Congress based on the frequency with which their names are used as internet search terms paired with epithets attacking either their intelligence or their sanity. Using that measure, the paper examines the statistical predictors of internet infamy. Not surprisingly, the results suggest that ideological extremism increases the likelihood of a legislator attaining such infamy, as does a leadership position in Congress...
The results in this paper suggest that infamy is more electorally harmful than beneficial. While infamous legislators raise more money than their lower-profile colleagues, their infamy also provides a fundraising boon to their opponents, and in House elections, infamy appears to have a direct negative effect on vote shares, at least for Republicans. Most surprisingly, these results are robust even controlling for ideological extremism.