Allen West Damages Himself With Insulting Email

West's rude email to Debbie Wasserman Schultz damages his dignity and image.

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Well, so much for "the distinguished gentlelady from Florida."

That, of course, is how members of Congress—all of them adults, and presumably schooled in basic manners—are supposed to address a colleague such as Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, even if they disagree with what she is saying.

[Check out a roundup of GOP political cartoons.]

But Rep. Allen West, a fiery freshman whose district abuts that of Wasserman-Schultz, couldn’t summon his inner grownup when he fired off this E-mail to his Democratic colleague:

Let me make myself perfectly clear, you want a personal fight, I am happy to oblige. You are the most vile, unprofessional and despicable member of the US 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. Focus on your own congressional district!

Understand that I shall defend myself forthright against your heinous characterless behavior. You have proven repeatedly that you are not a Lady, therefore, shall not be afforded due respect from me!

What provoked this outraged response? Wasserman Schultz had gone onto the floor to denounce the GOP’s "cut, cap, and balance" plan for the budget, expressing alarmed surprise that Republican West would vote for something Wasserman Schultz says will hurt seniors—a big chunk of the south Florida districts’ constituencies. [See cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

It is "unbelievable from a member from South Florida" to support a plan that slashes Medicaid and Medicare "in favor of protecting tax breaks for Big Oil, millionaires, and companies who ship American jobs overseas," Wasserman Schultz said on the floor. She never identified West by name, and the comments were hardly incendiary, compared to other remarks said in the chamber.

West’s E-mail does far more damage than that to his own dignity and image. It further erodes public respect for Congress, which—while behaving in a manner frustrating to many Americans—is largely made up of relentlessly hardworking people, aided by equally hard-working staffs. It puts House Speaker John Boehner in an awkward position. If he publicly supports West, he looks like a cad; and if he publicly denounces him, he divides his caucus at a time when both parties need to pull together to solve the debt crisis. Boehner may disagree strongly with what Wasserman Schultz, mildly said, but never—ever—would Boehner debase himself or the institution of the House of Representatives by firing off such a hateful note. [See 6 consequences if the debt ceiling isn't raised.]

The reference to acting like a "lady" is insulting to every one of West’s female colleagues. We haven’t heard something that directly offensive to women members of Congress by a fellow lawmaker since a GOP representative referred to former Rep. Susan Molinari, also a Republican, as "little Susie Molinari" during a floor speech.

Voters may ask West about this matter when he runs for re-election. And the question may be, "what grade are you in?"