There is plenty of evidence that the political discourse in this country has degenerated into the gutter. But anger, hatred, name-calling and political musical chairs all at the same time? Welcome to the soap opera that is Southeast Florida.
Last week, freshman Republican Rep. Allen West, a favorite of the tea party, announced that he would seek re-election in the proposed 18th district rather than in the 22nd district, which he currently represents. The 18th would be left open because two-term Republican Rep. Tom Rooney has announced that he will seek re-election in the 17th district.
West’s move prompted one of his Democratic opponents, Patrick Murphy, to issue a press release with the following headline: “Murphy: West Move to Rooney Seat an Act of Cowardice.”
West is, by any standard, a loose cannon who uses absurdly over-the-top language against his political opponents.
He has called Democrats “vile,” “vicious” and “socialist”; compared President Barack Obama to a “third-world dictator”; referred to the U.S. government as a “tyranny”; and called Florida Democratic Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz “the most vile, unprofessional and despicable Member” of the House. Civility apparently isn’t a high priority with the Congressman.
“This is a guy who makes a career of very tough talk, of being provocative toward Democrats ... [and who] had just told Democratic leaders that they need to get the hell out of the country — and two days later, he gets the hell out of his district,” notes Eric Johnson, Murphy’s general consultant.
But a coward? For running in a different district after the state adopted new district lines? It sounds as if Murphy is itching to get into a playground fight that’s more about testosterone than about representative government.
Was California Democratic Rep. Jim Costa a coward because he switched districts after redistricting to improve his chances of being re-elected?
How about North Carolina Rep. Heath Shuler (D)? Was he a coward because he decided not to seek re-election in a district redrawn to make his prospects difficult?
And is Rep. Steven Rothman (D-N.J.) a coward in choosing to run against fellow Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell instead of against Republican Rep. Scott Garrett?
Certainly not. Each was simply making a cold-blooded decision about his political future.
Members, Democrat and Republican, make these kinds of decisions all the time. They are merely strategic decisions based on what political hopefuls — incumbents and nonincumbents — see as their chances for victory.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., walks on Broadway after a Future Forum with young entrepreneurs in the Flatiron District of New York City, April 16, 2015. Reps. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., also attended.