Marvin Folkertsma

Amidst the rhetorical pyrotechnics surrounding July’s debt-ceiling debates, another controversy streaked across the sky like a comet, flared for an instant, then receded into the maelstrom of ongoing partisan attacks. The shooting star in question involved an exchange between two of Congress’ most controversial members, Allen West (R-Fla.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), whose regard for one another constitutes something of a congressional equivalent to how the Earps and Doc Holliday felt about the Clanton-McLaury gang at the OK Corral.

Except in this case, only one of the participants was present, and this was the problem. Their dispute, which since has reverberated through the internet, went like this: “The gentleman from Florida,” Wasserman Schultz intoned, “who represents thousands of Medicare beneficiaries … is supportive of this plan that would increase the cost for Medicare beneficiaries. Unbelievable from a member from South Florida.” That comment was too much for former Army Colonel Allen West, who responded in an email in which he stated, in part: “You want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional, and despicable member of the U. S. House of Representatives. If you have something to say to me, stop being a coward and say it to my face, otherwise, shut the heck up.”

Obviously, Congressman West is no one to trifle with.

All of which was dismissed as another example of hyperventilated partisan bloviating, perhaps a bit too acrimonious in the case of Congressman West, but otherwise best to be taken in stride with the rest of what angry lawmakers have to say about each other. Further, it would seem that Congressman West comes out looking a bit worse for expressing his unbridled contempt for Debbie Wasserman Schultz while she only offered animadversions against his policy stance. By this interpretation, the P.R. battles continue apace, with a slight nod for the Democrat in this shootout at the Capitol Corral.

Another interpretation puts this matter in a different light. Congressman West was not objecting to the substance of the Democrat’s comments, though of course he was opposed; he objected in principle to the fact that he was not there when she directed her comments at him. For Wasserman Schultz, pushing her agenda was more important that conducting a debate about contesting views with an opponent who was not present to answer her charges. In short, for Wasserman Schultz, agenda trumped principle; for Congressman West—regardless of the directness of his email message—principle superseded agenda, and that is why he became so angry.

Marvin Folkertsma

Dr. Marvin Folkertsma is a professor of political science and fellow for American studies with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. The author of several books, his latest release is a high-energy novel titled "The Thirteenth Commandment."