Florida Congressman Allen West finally conceded his race Tuesday morning, but that’s surely not the last America will hear from that outspoken hero of the Tea Party right. I met West for the first time at a North Palm Beach barbecue joint during the last week of the campaign, and he was as eloquent as I had always heard, although less inflammatory so close to Election Day. I didn’t quote him, but there was one moment I wanted to mention before he moves on to his inevitable talk radio gig, because it’s not every day that a politician behaves like a jerk in front of a reporter.
The incident involved a young woman who was working as a “tracker” for West’s Democratic opponent, Patrick Murphy. Trackers have become a ubiquitous presence in American politics, shadowing candidates around with video cameras and iPhones to document their every public utterance. It’s an annoying but legitimate tactic, because it’s worth knowing what candidates say to their supporters; think of Vice President Biden promising a war on coal plants in 2008. Occasionally, a tracker tries to follow a candidate into a bathroom, but for the most part, you only hear about trackers when candidates call them “macaca.”
A couple days before I met West, he had tried to chastise his tracker for taping his remarks at a public ceremony for Vietnam veterans, accusing the young woman of being “disrespectful to the men and women who have given themselves to this great nation.” I thought it was a tawdry fight to pick; you can judge for yourself on this video. In any case, he clearly upset the tracker, who was just doing her job, and it sounds like she left in tears.
She came back the morning I was interviewing West outside Park Avenue BBQ, where he was about to campaign. He whirled around and confronted her again: “You’re not going to take out that phone, are you?” She clearly was, but she stammered that she wasn’t. “Do not take out that phone!” West, a former Army colonel, was clearly trying to be intimidating. It worked. The tracker left, clearly upset once again.
I asked West why he had been so hostile. “I don’t have time to play games,” he snapped. “It shows how desperate the other side is.” I told him I thought trackers were pretty common in politics. “I don’t have time to play games,” he repeated.
We’ve all had moments where we weren’t as nice to others as we should have been. And in a way it’s kind of refreshing that West didn’t try to play nice in front of me; other politicians might try to conceal their nasty behavior from the press. But it’s better not to be nasty in the first place.