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Posted by on Nov 1, 2009 in Media, Politics, Society | 27 comments

Political Cannibalism

Frank Rich’s column today is about — as he puts it — the “GOP Stalinist invasion of upstate New York” — and it’s superb:

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.

Who is this guy the leading luminaries of the Republican Party have embraced?

Hoffman doesn’t even live in the district. When he appeared before the editorial board of The Watertown Daily Times 10 days ago, he “showed no grasp” of local issues, as the subsequent editorial put it. Hoffman complained that he should have received the questions in advance — blissfully unaware that they had been asked by the paper in an editorial on the morning of his visit.

Last week it turned out that Hoffman’s prime attribute to the radical right — as a take-no-prisoners fiscal conservative — was bogus. In fact he’s on the finance committee of a hospital that happily helped itself to a $479,000 federal earmark. Then again, without the federal government largess that the tea party crowd so deplores, New York’s 23rd would be a Siberia of joblessness. The biggest local employer is the pork-dependent military base, Fort Drum.

The right’s tactics in upstate New York are another illustration of a central paradox about the contemporary GOP — its tendency to mirror that which it supposedly reviles:

[The] antecedent [of today’s right-wing movement] 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). The same Republicans who once deplored Democrats for refusing to let an anti-abortion dissident, Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, speak at the 1992 Clinton convention now routinely banish any dissenters in their own camp.

These conservatives’ whiny cries of victimization also parrot a tic they once condemned in liberals. After Rush Limbaugh was booted from an ownership group bidding on the St. Louis Rams, he moaned about being done in by the “race card.” What actually did him in, of course, was the free-market American capitalism he claims to champion. Limbaugh didn’t understand that in an increasingly diverse nation, profit-seeking N.F.L. franchises actually want to court black ticket buyers, not drive them away.

The paradox for Democrats, of course, is that, as appalling and scary as the Stalinization of the GOP is, it helps Democrats win. Republicans are inexorably eating their own, and unless they somehow wise up, they will move closer and closer to the dustbin of U.S. political history.