Let Rep. West speak to NAACP

As the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers reported last Friday, in the wake of West’s comments, the Martin County chapter rescinded its invitation to have him address its Freedom Fund Banquet, now rescheduled for September 15th. And the reason, according to chapter president Rev. Jerry Gore, is because “There’s a certain statement he made about communists” and “we do not represent that type of atmosphere.”
{mosads}That’s good—but it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t speak—it’s all the more reason that he should.
We’re in the middle of a national debate about the size and scope of government. And we’re in an election year where Barack Obama—the first African American president—is running for reelection in an atmosphere where political opponents like West—the only GOP member of the Congressional Black Caucus—accuse the president of being a “low-level socialist agitator” who possesses “third world dictator-like arrogance.”
If there was ever a time when West should be given an opportunity to elaborate on his specific criticisms of the president and his congressional counterparts—it’s now. And if there was ever a place where those criticisms should be aired and challenged, it’s at the Martin County NAACP.
The Martin County chapter shouldn’t be trying to shut West down. They should be welcoming the chance to hear his message live and in person—and to challenge it wherever they disagree. Anything less than that does a disservice to their organization and short-circuits the process of sorting out exactly what alternatives that conservative black leaders like West are proposing.
It’s only one chapter, but if the NAACP is still the leading civil rights organization that it claims to be, then its members should be savoring the chance to have West collectively look them in the eye and outline—in detail—why he believes we’re veering toward “communism.” And if that’s what he believes, find out which federal programs, subsidies, and tax breaks he plans to cut.
Since West recently told Fox News’ Greta Van Susteren that he favors the “empowerment zones” once touted by the late Rep. Jack Kemp—the 1996 GOP Vice-Presidential nominee—as a way to bolster entrepreneurship in urban black communities, it would’ve been interesting to hear NAACP members ask him why he hasn’t yet introduced “empowerment zone” legislation.
Instead of a reprimand, the NAACP’s un-invitation will turn into a badge of honor that West carries back across political battle lines as “proof” that civil rights leaders are Democratic Party lackeys, unwilling to consider Republicans’ pitch. And though odds are they just wanted to make sure no one thought they condoned West’s attack, the Martin County chapter should’ve risked it.
West has said a lot worse, after all.
And he has a right to say what he wants. Just like the Martin County NAACP has a right to invite or un-invite any guest speaker they choose. But if they’re not interested in vetting their congressman’s views—when he’s agreed to show up and have his views vetted—then they’ve fallen down on their job as a civil rights organization.
It was, as West’s spokesman said Monday, “a missed opportunity for a serious exchange of ideas”—at least the “exchange of ideas” part, anyway.
So far, at least, we haven’t found out if West is serious.

Swerdlick writes for TheRoot.com and WNYC’s “It’s a Free Country” blog.

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