Barack Obama's most devilish political move since the 2008 campaign was to appoint a Republican congressman from upstate New York as secretary of the Army. This week's election to fill that vacant seat has set off nothing less than a riotous and bloody national G.O.P. civil war. No matter what the results in that race on Tuesday, the Republicans are the sure losers. This could be a gift that keeps on giving to the Democrats through 2010, and perhaps beyond.
The governors' races in New Jersey and Virginia were once billed as the marquee events of Election Day 2009 - a referendum on the Obama presidency and a possible Republican "comeback." But preposterous as it sounds, the real action migrated to New York's 23rd, a rural Congressional district abutting Canada. That this pastoral setting could become a G.O.P. killing field, attracting an all-star cast of combatants led by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, William Kristol and Newt Gingrich, is a premise out of a Depression-era screwball comedy. But such farces have become the norm for the conservative movement - whether the participants are dressing up in full "tea party" drag or not.
The battle for upstate New York confirms just how swiftly the right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama. The movement's undisputed leaders, Palin and Beck, neither of whom has what Palin once called the "actual responsibilities" of public office, would gladly see the Republican Party die on the cross of right-wing ideological purity. Over the short term, at least, their wish could come true.
Rich dredged up liberal historian Richard Hofstadter's 60's psychobabble and applied it to the 2009 races:
The more rightists who win G.O.P. primaries, the greater the Democrats' prospects next year. But the electoral math is less interesting than the pathology of this movement. Its antecedent can be found in the early 1960s, when radical-right hysteria carried some of the same traits we're seeing now: seething rage, fear of minorities, maniacal contempt for government, and a Freudian tendency to mimic the excesses of political foes. Writing in 1964 of that era's equivalent to today's tea party cells, the historian Richard Hofstadter observed that the John Birch Society's "ruthless prosecution" of its own ideological war often mimicked the tactics of its Communist enemies.
The same could be said of Beck, Palin and their acolytes. Though they constantly liken the president to various totalitarian dictators, it is they who are re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode. They drove out Arlen Specter, and now want to "melt Snowe" (as the blog Red State put it).
"Melt Snowe?" That's what Rich lays awake at night in fear of? Silly puns?
Just in case you missed it the first time, Rich again compared conservatives like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin to Stalinists:
There is only one political opponent whom Obama really has to worry about at this moment: Hamid Karzai. It's Afghanistan and joblessness, not the Stalinists of the right, that have the power to bring this president down.Jonathan Chait of The New Republic, no friend of the right, thinks Rich is going overboard :
What exactly is the problem here? Rich paints Scozzafava's heresies as minor. But suppose this was a solidly Democratic district, and party bosses put forward an anti-stimulus, anti-abortion, anti-gay rights nominee. Would Rich really oppose a liberal campaign to elect a more like-minded representative? Would he employ such virtiolic metaphors?
Matt Welch at Reason Magazine, an organ that takes ideological labels rather more seriously than Frank Rich, said of Rich's fearful taxonomy :
For those of you keeping metaphorical score at home: Stalin's Great Purge (just to name his most famous one) included roughly 1,000 executions a day, over two years. The alleged Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin purge, meanwhile, has resulted...brace yourself...in a moderate Republican suspending her campaign for Congress to make way for a conservative independent. Yeah, totally the same.