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The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged by Frank Rich

Op-ed by Frank Rich

Frank Rich

Frank Rich/The New York Times

New York Times/Frank Rich~~No one knows what history will make of the present — least of all journalists, who can at best write history’s sloppy first draft. But if I were to place an incautious bet on which political event will prove the most significant of February 2010, I wouldn’t choose the kabuki health care summit that generated all the ink and 24/7 cable chatter in Washington. I’d put my money instead on the murder-suicide of Andrew Joseph Stack III, the tax protester who flew a plane into an office building housing Internal Revenue Service employees in Austin, Tex., on Feb. 18. It was a flare with the dark afterlife of an omen.

What made that kamikaze mission eventful was less the deranged act itself than the curious reaction of politicians on the right who gave it a pass — or, worse, flirted with condoning it. Stack was a lone madman, and it would be both glib and inaccurate to call him a card-carrying Tea Partier or a “Tea Party terrorist.” But he did leave behind a manifesto whose frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage overlaps with some of those marching under the Tea Party banner. That rant inspired like-minded Americans to create instant Facebook shrines to his martyrdom. Soon enough, some cowed politicians, including the newly minted Tea Party hero Scott Brown, were publicly empathizing with Stack’s credo — rather than risk crossing the most unforgiving brigade in their base.

Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, even rationalized Stack’s crime. “It’s sad the incident in Texas happened,” he said, “but by the same token, it’s an agency that is unnecessary. And when the day comes when that is over and we abolish the I.R.S., it’s going to be a happy day for America.” No one in King’s caucus condemned these remarks. Then again, what King euphemized as “the incident” took out just 1 of the 200 workers in the Austin building: Vernon Hunter, a 68-year-old Vietnam veteran nearing his I.R.S. retirement. Had Stack the devastating weaponry and timing to match the death toll of 168 inflicted by Timothy McVeigh on a federal building in Oklahoma in 1995, maybe a few of the congressman’s peers would have cried foul.

It is not glib or inaccurate to invoke Oklahoma City in this context, because the acrid stench of 1995 is back in the air. Two days before Stack’s suicide mission, The Times published David Barstow’s chilling, months-long investigation of the Tea Party movement. Anyone who was cognizant during the McVeigh firestorm would recognize the old warning signs re-emerging from the mists of history. The Patriot movement. “The New World Order,” with its shadowy conspiracies hatched by the Council on Foreign Relations and the Trilateral Commission. Sandpoint, Idaho. White supremacists. Militias.

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For Me, the Party Is Over

Posted by: Audiegrl

Op-ed by Michael Smerconish

Michael Smerconish, Columnist, Radio Host

Michael Smerconish, Columnist, Radio Host

It took only the single tap of a computer key, and just like that I’d exited the Republican Party after 30 years of active membership. The context might sound impulsive, but I’d been thinking of becoming an independent for a long time. I just hadn’t expected that a trip to renew my driver’s license would mark the end.

Just before my photo was snapped, I was asked if I wanted to register to vote. For me, the question was borderline offensive. I first registered after turning 18 in the spring of 1980 and haven’t missed an election since. And I’m not just talking presidential races. I mean all elections. Congress, town council, school board, whatever.

I’m already registered,” I offered. Next came the unexpected question of whether I wished to change my political affiliation. I’m not sure why that is asked of someone renewing a driver’s license, and I question whether it is even appropriate for most. But in my case, it was the only impetus I needed.

Years ago, I grew tired of having my television or radio introduction accompanied by a label, with some implied expectation that what would then come from my mouth were the party talking points. That was me 26 years ago, when I was the youngest elected member of the state delegation to the Republican National Convention, but not today. I’m not sure if I left the Republican Party or the party left me. All I know is that I no longer feel comfortable.

The national GOP is a party of exclusion and litmus tests, dominated on social issues by the religious right, with zero discernible outreach by the national party to anyone who doesn’t fit neatly within its parameters. Instead, the GOP has extended itself to its fringe while throwing under the bus long-standing members like New York Assemblywoman Dede Scozzafava, a McCain-Palin supporter in 2008 who told me she voted with her Republican leadership 90 percent of the time before running for Congress last fall.

Which is not to say I feel comfortable in the Democratic Party, either. Weeks before Indiana Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh’s announcement that he will not seek reelection, I noted the centrist former governor’s words to the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib. Too many Democrats, Bayh said in that interview, are “tone-deaf” to Americans’ belief that the party had “overreached rather than looking for consensus with moderates and independents.

Where political parties once existed to create coalitions and win elections, now they seek to advance strict ideological agendas. In today’s terms, it’s hard to imagine the GOP tent once housing such disparate figures as conservative Barry Goldwater and liberal New Yorker Jacob Javits, while John Stennis of Mississippi and Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts coexisted as Democratic contemporaries.

Collegiality is nonexistent today, and any outreach across an aisle is castigated as weakness by the talking heads who constantly stir a pot of discontent. So vicious is the political climate that within two years, Sen. John McCain has gone from GOP standard-bearer to its endangered-species list. All of which leaves homeless those of us with views that don’t stack up neatly in any ideological box the way we’re told they should.

Consider that I’ve long insisted on the need to profile in the war against terrorists. I believe that if someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed has actionable intelligence on future terrorism, you try the least coercive methods to extract it but ultimately stop at damn near nothing to get what you need to save American lives. I want the U.S. military out of Iraq, but into Pakistan. I’m for capital punishment. I think our porous borders need to be secured before we determine how to deal with the millions of illegal immigrants already within them. Sounds pretty conservative. But wait.

I think that in 2008, the GOP was wrong to adopt a party platform that maintained a strict opposition to abortion without at least carving out exceptions in the case of rape, incest, or danger to the mother’s life. I was appalled that legislators tried to decide Terri Schiavo’s end-of-life plan. I don’t care if two guys hook up any more than they should care about my heterosexual lifestyle. And I still don’t know what to think about climate change.

I think President Obama is earnest, smart, and much more centrist than his tea party caricature suggests. He has never been given a fair chance to succeed by those who openly crow about their desire to see him fail (while somehow congratulating one another on their relative patriotism). I know he was born in America, isn’t a socialist, and doesn’t worship in a mosque. I get that he inherited a minefield. Still, the level of federal spending concerns me. And he never closed the deal with me that health insurance is a right, not a privilege. But I’m not folding the tent on him. Not now. Not with the nation fighting two wars while its economy still teeters on the brink of collapse.

All of which leaves me in a partisan no-man’s-land, albeit surrounded by many others, especially my neighbors. By quitting the GOP, I have actually joined the largest group of American voters. According to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll, 39 percent of Americans identify themselves as independents — compared with 32 percent who say they are Democrats and 26 percent who are self-described members of the GOP. Nowhere is this more pronounced than locally, where a shift away from the Republican Party has taken place in the four bellwether counties surrounding Philadelphia.

I will miss casting a ballot in the spring, as current state election law prohibits unaffiliated voters from voting in GOP or Democratic primary elections. Instead, I’ll join the others who bide their time until fall, when we can temper the extremes of both parties.

My decision should not be interpreted for more than it is: a very difficult, deeply personal one. . . . I value my independence. I am not motivated by strident partisanship or ideology.”

Those are Bayh’s words, not mine. But he was speaking for both of us.

Cross-posted with the Philadelphia Inquirer.

President Barack Obama (L) speaks as he is interviewed by radio show host Michael Smerconish (R) during a live broadcast from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House August 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. Other than being interviewed by Smerconish, Obama also took questions from a few call-in audience members.

President Barack Obama (L) speaks as he is interviewed by radio show host Michael Smerconish (R) during a live broadcast from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House August 20, 2009 in Washington, DC. Other than being interviewed by Smerconish, Obama also took questions from a few call-in audience members.

Michael Smerconish is the Philadelphia radio market’s premier talk host who is heard daily on Infinity Radio’s 50,000-watt WPHT, found at 1210 AM. The program reaches Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. Smerconish is also a frequent guest host for Bill O’Reilly on the nationally syndicated Radio Factor. For several years, Smerconish has been a popular columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News. In 2003, author Bernard Goldberg re-published one of Smerconish’s Daily News columns in his book Arrogance, a follow-up to his bestseller Bias. Smerconish is a familiar face on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN where he provides commentary on current events. Contact Michael Smerconish via www.smerconish.com

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The Pit Bull in the China Shop by Frank Rich

Op-ed by Frank Rich

Frank Rich

Frank Rich/The New York Times

New York Times/Frank Rich—At last the American right and left have one issue they unequivocally agree on: You don’t actually have to read Sarah Palin’s book to have an opinion about it. Last Sunday Liz Cheney praisedGoing Rogue” as “well-written” on Fox News even though, by her own account, she had sampled only “parts” of it. On Tuesday, Ana Marie Cox, a correspondent for Air America, belittled the book in The Washington Post while confessing that she couldn’t claim to have “completely” read it.

Going Rogue” will hardly be the first best seller embraced by millions for talismanic rather than literary ends. And I am not recommending that others follow my example and slog through its 400-plus pages, especially since its supposed revelations have been picked through 24/7 for a week. But sometimes I wonder if anyone has read all of what Palin would call the “dang” thing. Some of the book’s most illuminating tics have been mentioned barely — if at all — by either its fans or foes. Palin is far and away the most important brand in American politics after Barack Obama, and attention must be paid. Those who wishfully think her 15 minutes are up are deluding themselves.

The book’s biggest surprise is Palin’s wide-eyed infatuation with show-business celebrities. You get nearly as much face time with Tina Fey and the cast of “Saturday Night Live” in “Going Rogue” as you do with John McCain. We learn how happy Palin was to receive calls from Bono and Warren Beatty “to share ideas and insights.” We wade through star-struck lists of campaign cameos by Robert Duvall, Jon Voight (who “blew us away”), Naomi Judd, Gary Sinise and Kelsey Grammer, among many others. Then there are the acknowledgments at the book’s end, where Palin reveals that her intimacy with media stars is such that she can air-kiss them on a first-name basis, from Greta to Laura to Rush.

Equally revealing is the one boldfaced name conspicuously left unmentioned in the book: Levi Johnston, the father of Palin’s grandchild. Though Palin and McCain milked him for photo ops at the Republican convention, he is persona non grata now that he’s taking off his campaign wardrobe. Is Johnston’s fledgling porn career the problem, or is it his public threats to strip bare Palin family secrets as well? “She knows what I got on her” is how he put it. In Palin’s interview with Oprah last week, it was questioning about Johnston, not Katie Couric, that made her nervous.

The book’s most frequently dropped names, predictably enough, are the Lord and Ronald Reagan (though not necessarily in that order). Easily the most startling passage in “Going Rogue,” running more than two pages, collates extended excerpts from a prayerful letter Palin wrote to mark the birth of Trig, her child with Down syndrome. This missive’s understandable goal was to reassert Palin’s faith and trust in God. But Palin did not write her letter to God; she wrote the letter from God, assuming His role and voice herself and signing it “Trig’s Creator, Your Heavenly Father.” If I may say so — Oy!

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The Missing Link From Killeen to Kabul by Frank Rich

Op-ed by Frank Rich

Frank Rich

Frank Rich/The New York Times

New York Times/Frank Rich—The dead at Fort Hood had not even been laid to rest when their massacre became yet another political battle cry for the self-proclaimed patriots of the American right.

Their verdict was unambiguous: Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American-born psychiatrist of Palestinian parentage who sent e-mail to a radical imam, was a terrorist. And he did not act alone. His co-conspirators included our military brass, the Defense Department, the F.B.I., the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, the Joint Terrorism Task Force and, of course, the liberal media and the Obama administration. All these institutions had failed to heed the warning signs raised by Hasan’s behavior and activities because they are blinded by political correctness toward Muslims, too eager to portray criminals as sympathetic victims of social injustice, and too cowardly to call out evil when it strikes 42 innocents in cold blood.

The invective aimed at these heinous P.C. pantywaists nearly matched that aimed at Hasan. Joe Lieberman announced hearings to investigate the Army for its dereliction of duty on homeland security. Peter Hoekstra, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, vowed to unmask cover-ups in the White House and at the C.I.A. The Weekly Standard blog published a broadside damning the F.B.I. for neglecting the “broader terrorist plot” of which Hasan was only one of the connected dots. Jerome Corsi, the major-domo of the successful Swift-boating of John Kerry, unearthed what he said was proof that Hasan had advised President Obama during the transition.

William Bennett excoriated soft military leaders like Gen. George Casey Jr., the Army chief of staff, who had stood up for diversity and fretted openly about a backlash against Muslim soldiers in his ranks. “Blind diversity” that embraces Islam “equals death,” wrote Michelle Malkin. “There is a powerful case to be made that Islamic extremism is not some fringe phenomenon but part of the mainstream of Islamic life around the world,” wrote the columnist Jonah Goldberg. Islam is “not a religion,” declared the irrepressible Pat Robertson, but “a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world.”

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Bring Them Home, Mr. President by Eugene Robinson

Op-Ed by Eugene Robinson

Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist, Eugene Robinson

Pulitzer Prize Winning Journalist, Eugene Robinson

Eugene Robinson—The most dreadful burden of the presidency — the power to send men and women to die for their country — seems to weigh heavily on Barack Obama these days. He went to Dover Air Force Base to salute the coffins of fallen troops. He gave a moving speech at the memorial service for victims of last week’s killings at Fort Hood. On Veterans Day, after the traditional wreath-laying at Arlington National Cemetery, he took an unscheduled walk among the rows of marble headstones in Section 60, where the dead from our two ongoing wars are buried.

As he decides whether to escalate the war in Afghanistan, Obama should keep these images in mind. Geopolitical calculation has human consequences. Sending more troops will mean more coffins arriving at Dover, more funerals at Arlington, more stress and hardship for military families. It would be wrong to demand such sacrifice in the absence of military goals that are clear, achievable and worthwhile.

And what goals in Afghanistan remotely satisfy those criteria?

The Washington Post reported Wednesday that the U.S. ambassador to Kabul, Karl Eikenberry, recently sent two classified cables to officials in Washington expressing what the newspaper described as “deep concerns” about sending more troops now.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal, chosen by Obama to lead U.S. forces in Afghanistan, has asked for perhaps 40,000 additional troops to carry out a counterinsurgency campaign. Armchair Napoleons in Washington, comfortably ensconced in their book-lined offices, insist that Obama must “listen to the generals.” But Eikenberry was a four-star general until Obama named him ambassador earlier this year. He commanded U.S. troops in Afghanistan in 2006-07. He needs to be heard as well.

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Paranoia Strikes Deep by Paul Krugman

Op-ed by Paul Krugman

Paul Krugman, New York Times

Paul Krugman, New York Times

New York Times/Paul Krugman—Last Thursday there was a rally outside the U.S. Capitol to protest pending health care legislation, featuring the kinds of things we’ve grown accustomed to, including large signs showing piles of bodies at Dachau with the caption “National Socialist Healthcare.” It was grotesque — and it was also ominous. For what we may be seeing is America starting to be Californiafied.

The key thing to understand about that rally is that it wasn’t a fringe event. It was sponsored by the House Republican leadership — in fact, it was officially billed as a G.O.P. press conference. Senior lawmakers were in attendance, and apparently had no problem with the tone of the proceedings.

True, Eric Cantor, the second-ranking House Republican, offered some mild criticism after the fact. But the operative word is “mild.” The signs were “inappropriate,” said his spokesman, and the use of Hitler comparisons by such people as Rush Limbaugh, said Mr. Cantor, “conjures up images that frankly are not, I think, very helpful.”

What all this shows is that the G.O.P. has been taken over by the people it used to exploit.

gallery-bachmannteaparty30The state of mind visible at recent right-wing demonstrations is nothing new. Back in 1964 the historian Richard Hofstadter published an essay titled, “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” which reads as if it were based on today’s headlines: Americans on the far right, he wrote, feel that “America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion.” Sound familiar?

But while the paranoid style isn’t new, its role within the G.O.P. is.

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The Night They Drove the Tea Partiers Down by Frank Rich

Op-ed by Frank Rich

Frank Rich

Frank Rich/The New York Times

New York Times/Frank Rich—FOR all cable news’s efforts to inflate Election 2009 into a cliffhanger as riveting as Balloon Boy, ratings at MSNBC and CNN were flat Tuesday night. But not at Fox News, where the audience nearly doubled its usual prime-time average. That’s what happens when you have a thrilling story to tell, and what could be more thrilling than a revolution playing out in real time?

As Fox kept insisting, all eyes were glued on Doug Hoffman, the insurgent tea party candidate in New York’s 23rd Congressional District. A “tidal wave” was on its way, said Sean Hannity, and the right would soon “take back the Republican Party.” The race was not “even close,” Bill O’Reilly suggested to the pollster Scott Rasmussen, who didn’t disagree. When returns showed Hoffman trailing, the network’s resident genius, Karl Rove, knowingly reassured viewers that victory was in the bag, even if we’d have to stay up all night waiting for some slacker towns to tally their votes. (Posters note: see SNL spoof video)

Alas, the Dewey-beats-Truman reveries died shortly after midnight, when even Fox had to concede that the Democrat, Bill Owens, had triumphed in what had been Republican country since before Edison introduced the light bulb. For the far right, the thriller in Watertown was over except for the ludicrous morning-after spin that Hoffman’s loss was really a victory. For the Democrats, the excitement was just beginning. New York’s 23rd could be celebrated as a rare bright spot on a night when the party’s gubernatorial candidates lost in Virginia and New Jersey.

readingtealeavesnytThe Democrats’ celebration was also premature: Hoffman’s defeat is potentially more harmful to them than to the Republicans. Tuesday’s results may be useless as a predictor of 2010, but they are not without value as cautionary tales. And the most worrisome for Democrats were not in Virginia and New Jersey, but, paradoxically, in the New York contests where they performed relatively well. That includes the idiosyncratic New York City mayor’s race that few viewed as a bellwether of anything. It should be the most troubling of them all for President Obama’s cohort — even though neither Obama nor the national political parties were significant players in it.

But first let’s make a farewell accounting of the farce upstate. The reason why the Democratic victory in New York’s 23rd is a mixed blessing is simple: it increases the odds that the Republicans will not do Democrats the great favor of committing suicide between now and the next Election Day.

This race was a damaging setback for the hard right. Hoffman had the energetic support of Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Fox as well as big bucks from their political auxiliaries. Furthermore, Hoffman was running not only in a district that Rove himself described as “very Republican” but one that fits the demographics of the incredibly shrinking G.O.P. The 23rd is far whiter than America as a whole — 93 percent versus 74 — with tiny sprinklings of blacks, Hispanics and Asians. It has few immigrants. It’s rural. Its income and education levels are below the norm. Only if the district were situated in Dixie — or Utah — could it be a more perfect fit for the narrow American demographic where the McCain-Palin ticket had its sole romps last year.

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