Frank Rich of the New York Times retired as a drama critic in order to take up his new role as the paper’s full-time drama queen. As an op-ed columnist for the Times, his assignment, apparently, is to write in such a hysterical fashion that Paul Krugman seems rational by comparison.
Currently, the most-recommended article on the Times web site is Rich’s column, “The Axis of the Obsessed and Deranged.” The “axis,” as described by Rich, includes 1) a murderer, 2) kooks, 3) Tea Partiers, and 4) Republican politicians and Presidential candidates. The point of Rich’s column is to suggest, in his usual subtle fashion, that these groups are more or less interchangeable.
Rich starts with “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.” The last sentence is classic Rich. I’ll hazard a guess that Stack’s murder-suicide was not an omen of anything, and will not ignite a rash of intentional airplane crashes.
Rich admits that “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.’” No kidding: Stack had zero connection to the Tea Party movement. None. So why would it occur to anyone to refer to him as a “Tea Party terrorist”? This is not guilt by association, this is guilt despite a complete lack of association. Rich suggests that the answer lies in Stack’s online political screed:
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.
No, it doesn’t. Stack’s essay is left-wing, not right-wing; it ends with a denunciation of capitalism and a quote from the Communist Manifesto. The Tea Party is a highly diverse movement, but you will find very few Communists in it.
Rich proceeds to try to tie conservatives and Republican politicians to this suicidal left-winger:
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.
I can’t find any “shrines to [Stack's] martyrdom” on Facebook, although there are a number of anti-Stack groups. The only one that could be considered pro-Stack is called “His Name is Joseph Stack.” It has a whopping 343 members. Since the Facebook page highlights Stack’s quote from the Communist Manifesto, I assume most of the group’s members are Communist sympathizers and likely are members of Rich’s Democratic Party. The Facebook group was started by a kid who graduated from high school last June and works in a deli. I don’t think we’re seeing a noteworthy political movement here. [UPDATE: A reader notes that there was a Facebook page that honored Stack, but Facebook deleted it. However, the prediction in the linked CBS article that "others seem sure to follow" has not materialized.]
Of course, Rich’s real target isn’t the deli guy. As always, it’s the Republican Party, of which Joseph Stack was not a member and which had nothing to do with his murder-suicide. Thus the reference to Scott Brown’s supposed “empathy” with Stack’s credo. I was surprised to learn that Brown empathizes with the Communist Manifesto–even in Massachusetts, Republicans are rarely that liberal–so I looked up the comments Rich was referring to. Brown was interviewed on Neil Cavuto’s television show on the day when Stack flew his airplane into the IRS building and was asked about the incident. You can watch the exchange here. Brown’s comments were in no way controversial, and it is absurd to say that he “publicly empathiz[ed] with Stack’s credo.” To my knowledge, Brown has never in his life cited the Communist Manifesto with approval.
Next, Rich takes on Congressman Steve King. Here as elsewhere, Rich picks up on a meme that comes from the far-left blogosphere; in fact, Rich’s columns, like Krugman’s, mostly parrot the left ‘sphere. It’s easier if you don’t have to think for yourself:
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.
You can watch the King interview with someone from the far-left Think Progress web site here. What King wants to talk about is replacing the income tax with a national sales tax. Nowhere, not surprisingly, does he “rationalize” flying an airplane into an IRS building (or any other building). It’s hard to imagine what anyone in King’s Republican caucus could have found to condemn in the Think Progress interview.
Now Rich returns to the Tea Partiers (logical connections in his columns tend to be rather loose):
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.
Barstow’s article may have been “chilling,” but it did not mention a single act of violence. Not one. So far, the only violent acts that have occurred in connection with either town hall meetings or Tea Party events have been perpetrated by union thugs representing the Democratic Party. There wasn’t anything about white supremacism in Barstow’s breathless, left-wing article, either, but Rich could hardly leave out that chestnut.
Now, for the first time, Rich actually makes sense:
Equally significant is Barstow’s finding that most Tea Party groups have no affiliation with the G.O.P. despite the party’s ham-handed efforts to co-opt them. The more we learn about the Tea Partiers, the more we can see why. They loathe John McCain and the free-spending, TARP-tainted presidency of George W. Bush. …
The distinction between the Tea Party movement and the official G.O.P. is real, and we ignore it at our peril.
That’s an unusual accumulation of true statements for a Frank Rich column. It’s hard to understand, however, how these admissions fit with the murderer=Tea Partier=Republican theme that is the main point of the column, and to which Rich shortly returns. Rich continues by identifying three Republicans who have an affinity with the Tea Party movement and who are not part of the despised “old Republican guard”:
The leaders embraced by the new grass roots right are a different slate entirely: Glenn Beck, Ron Paul and Sarah Palin. Simple math dictates that none of this trio can be elected president.
No kidding! At least two of the three aren’t running–Beck is not a politician and has never sought elective office–and I don’t think Sarah Palin is running, either. So, what’s the point? Hard to say. Rich tries to explain:
But these leaders do have a consistent ideology, and that ideology plays to the lock-and-load nutcases out there, not just to the peaceable (if riled up) populist conservatives also attracted to Tea Partyism.
This is the kind of slur you can get away with if you’re only accountable to editors at the New York Times who share your paranoid liberal ideology. I dislike Ron Paul and am not a fan of Glenn Beck, but how do their ideas “play to the lock-and-load nutcases out there”? If either of these gentlemen has done something to encourage violence, as Rich unambiguously implies, you might think that he would tell us what it is. They haven’t, of course, so he doesn’t. That leaves Sarah Palin, whom I do like and whose utterances I have followed rather closely for a while now. Has she done something to incite violence or “play to lock-and-load nutcases”? Of course not. Like most of what Frank Rich writes, this is sheer fantasy. If he worked for a competent newspaper, its editors would not let him get away with this kind of partisan slander.
Now Rich turns to CPAC. He notes that the John Birch Society was one of many sponsors; here I agree with him. Whoever runs CPAC should have turned down their contribution, just like the Democratic Party and its affiliates (MoveOn, etc.) should turn down contributions from George Soros. From there on, Rich’s paranoia goes steadily over the top:
[J]ust one day after Stack crashed his plane into the Austin I.R.S. office — the heretofore milquetoast Minnesota governor, Tim Pawlenty, told the audience to emulate Tiger Woods’s wife and “take a 9-iron and smash the window out of big government in this country.”
Such violent imagery and invective, once largely confined to blogs and talk radio, is now spreading among Republicans in public office or aspiring to it.
I criticized this part of Pawlenty’s speech, but give me a break. Is Rich seriously trying to convince us that Pawlenty’s ill-chosen joke constituted “violent imagery and invective”? Does he mean to suggest that Pawlenty intended to endorse Joe Stack’s fatal airplane ride, or some other act of violence, or that his audience somehow took his joke that way? Frank Rich never argues–he only associates, almost always falsely or unfairly. He continues:
Last year Michele Bachmann, the redoubtable Tea Party hero and Minnesota congresswoman, set the pace by announcing that she wanted “people in Minnesota armed and dangerous” to oppose Obama administration climate change initiatives.
Here, Rich is quoting from an interview that I did with Michele on the radio last year. The point of the interview was to promote two public meetings that Michele was holding in her Congressional district on the subject of global warming. In these meetings, experts on the topic gave talks and answered questions. Michele said that she wanted her constituents to be armed with information, and therefore dangerous to the hoaxers in Washington who are trying to extend control over our economy with cap and trade, etc. Again, Rich is too lazy to do his own research, and instead channels morons in the liberal blogosphere who tried to portray Congresswoman Bachmann’s support for rational debate on the issue of climate change as advocacy of political violence. Nothing could better illustrate the low standards of the New York Times. It is hard to imagine that the National Enquirer, say, would print anything this blatantly misleading.
Rich’s character assassination continues:
In Texas, the Tea Party favorite for governor, Debra Medina, is positioning herself to the right of the incumbent, Rick Perry — no mean feat given that Perry has suggested that Texas could secede from the union. A state sovereignty zealot, Medina reminded those at a rally that “the tree of freedom is occasionally watered with the blood of tyrants and patriots.”
Yes, well, that’s a quote from Jefferson. It’s not a sentiment that I agree with, but it comes, after all, from the founder of Rich’s beloved Democratic Party. More:
In the heyday of 1960s left-wing radicalism, no liberal Democratic politicians in Washington could be found endorsing groups preaching violent revolution. The right has a different history.
Let’s just stop there. What Republican politician has ever “endors[ed] groups preaching violent revolution”? I am not aware of any; we’ll get to that in a moment. But many liberal Democratic politicians in the 1960s and 1970s–like, for example, George McGovern, the Democrats’ 1972 Presidential nominee–proclaimed their sympathy with the views and objectives of violent groups, if not the tactics used by those groups, i.e., their opposition to the war in Vietnam and their desire to take the government of the United States in a more socialist direction. In fact, many of those very Democrats–John Kerry, Bill Clinton and others come immediately to mind–are now the leaders of their party. Rich now tries to support his slander of “the right”:
In the months before McVeigh’s mass murder, Helen Chenoweth and Steve Stockman, then representing Idaho and Texas in Congress, publicly empathized with the conspiracy theories of the far right that fueled his anti-government obsessions.
Rich links to a rather funny and typically paranoid Times piece on Congresswoman Chenoweth of Idaho, who served three terms in Congress and then retired consistent with her term limits pledge. But the Times article to which he links, while lengthy, makes no mention of Chenowith supporting any violent acts or “endorsing groups preaching violent revolution,” which was the standard that Rich applied to his own Democratic Party. Likewise, Rich’s link to a Times article on Steve Stockman, of whom I have no recollection, does not in any way support his claim that Stockman somehow supported violent political action.
Rich winds up his pastiche with a swipe at Sarah Palin, who, for obvious reasons, is the bete noir of homosexual activists like Frank Rich and Andrew Sullivan:
In his Times article on the Tea Party right, Barstow profiled Pam Stout, a once apolitical Idaho retiree who cast her lot with a Tea Party group allied with Beck’s 9/12 Project, the Birch Society and the Oath Keepers, a rising militia group of veterans and former law enforcement officers who champion disregarding laws they oppose. She frets that “another civil war” may be in the offing. “I don’t see us being the ones to start it,” she told Barstow, “but I would give up my life for my country.”
Whether consciously or coincidentally, Stout was echoing Palin’s memorable final declaration during her appearance at the National Tea Party Convention earlier this month: “I will live, I will die for the people of America, whatever I can do to help.” It’s enough to make you wonder who is palling around with terrorists now.
Would any newspaper other than the New York Times publish anything this dumb? There is no apparent connection between Ms. Stout’s declaration and Governor Palin’s speech; it isn’t even clear which came first. In any event, would Rich put anyone who expressed a willingness to give up his or her life for his country in the same suspect category? Was Nathan Hale the first Tea Partier? Have none of Rich’s fellow Democrats expressed such a sentiment? Are we to assume that, from now on, anyone who says he or she would be willing to die for our country is “obsessed and deranged”? If not, what, exactly, is the point?
Rich concludes with the suggestion that Sarah Palin is “palling around with terrorists.” What on earth is he talking about? The only apparent reference was to Ms. Stout, a random woman in Idaho who is not a terrorist or anything like it. Is that what Rich had in mind? If so, Ms. Stout should sue him. Did Rich mean something else that would be completely opaque to any reader? If so, he is an incompetent columnist.
You really shouldn’t read the New York Times. It has lower editorial standards than any other newspaper in America, and if you read it enough, it could make you stupid. Like Frank Rich.