Accusing opponents of dangerous insanity has become so commonplace in the Age of Obama that such discourse is now taken for granted. Frank Rich devoted the entirety of his Sunday New York Times column to insinuating that the Tea Party movement is a paranoid aggregation motivated by "frothing anti-government, anti-tax rage," and thereby complicit in the Feb. 18 crime of Andrew Joseph Stack III, who piloted his Piper airplane into an Internal Revenue Service office in Texas.
This rhetorical conflation of political protests and Stack's kamikaze crash required Rich to overlook the quite specific grievances described by Stack in his profanity-strewn suicide note. Stack alluded to a "$10,000 helping of justice" -- apparently a penalty for failure to file a tax return several years ago -- and blamed his accountant and the IRS for a more recent audit involving $12,700 of his wife's unreported income.
Along with his strictly personal ax-grinding against the IRS-CPA axis, Stack also ranted about "the vulgar, corrupt Catholic church," "the monsters of organized religion," "presidential puppet GW Bush and his cronies," the "rich" and "wealthy." None of that bears meaningful resemblance to the politics of Sarah Palin, Tim Pawlenty, Glenn Beck or any of the other name-brand figures swept up in Frank Rich's all-encompassing indictment of what he calls the "anti-government right."
Of course, there is no prominent conservative whom Rich hasn't similarly smeared in the 16 years since he forsook theater criticism for political commentary. Like many another latter-day liberal, Rich is fond of employing dead conservatives as sticks with which to beat the living. He endorses William F. Buckley Jr. for having repudiated the John Birch Society in the early 1960s. (Were we tempted to play along with Rich's guilt-by-association game, we might ask whether he also now retroactively approves Buckley's early-'60s opposition to the Rumford Fair Housing Act.)
This reckless invocation of Buckley's ghost -- imagine what that departed spirit might actually have to say to Frank Rich -- is strictly a means of castigating the Conservative Political Action Conference for having accepted the Birchers among a hundred or so co-sponsors of this year's gathering. CPAC's sponsors represented a broad spectrum of belief from GOProud (gay-friendly Republicans) to Focus on the Family (not nearly so gay-friendly). With the conservative "Big Tent" evidently bursting at the seams -- a record 10,000 attended this year's 37th annual conference -- perhaps the organizers figured there was room enough for the JBS without being accused of pandering to conspiracy theorists.
Political double standards being what they are, if CPAC rents exhibition-hall booth space to any controversial group they will face the charge that they thereby endorse that group's opinion. Meanwhile, we have been assured by the bien-pensants of the respectable press, Barack Obama spent 20 years in the pews of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's church without absorbing any of the reverend's radicalism. And don't dare mention Obama's association with Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers -- how mean-spirited of you! -- let alone young Barack's Marxist mentor, Frank Marshall Davis.
Conservatives who attempt to turn the tables on the Left in this manner inevitably discover the liberal concept of innocence by association. There is no Democratic scoundrel who cannot exculpate himself by supporting the liberal legislative agenda. Ted Kennedy was a notorious philanderer whose most remarkable career achievement was escaping justice for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne, but he voted pro-choice and sponsored the Violence Against Women Act, so Teddy was celebrated as a feminist hero. What liberals celebrate as Democratic virtue, they condemn as Republican hypocrisy. Robert Byrd and Strom Thurmond were both once segregationist Democrats, but while Thurmond became a Republican, Byrd remained a Democrat and therefore receives praise from the liberal press that Thurmond never got.
The only way any Republican can be redeemed is either to follow the "centrist" path of Arlen Specter, or else die and become one of those Buckley-type names with which liberals conjure when condemning the living Right. Combining these two redemptive strategies is a specialty of certain second-generation ex-Republicans, among them Frank Schaeffer, whose late father was a conservative Christian eminence. Last week, Schaeffer uncorked a video rant touting his status as "a 57-year-old white guy who used to be a Republican" and interpreting Dick Cheney's CPAC cameo appearance as an expression of racism.
Applying his telepathic powers, Schaeffer declared:
[W]hat they really want to be saying is, "We don't want a black guy in the White House…. We'd rather see the economy go down in flames than work with a black man." And since they can't say that, they spout all this other B.S. But their own audience knows perfectly well what they're saying, which is what Dick Cheney said at CPAC: "We want to make this guy a one-term president." He didn't actually use the N-word, but you look between the lines and it's there: "We don't want this N in the White House."
Conservatives could play the "look between the lines" game and cite this video as evidence that Frank Schaeffer is nutty as a fruitcake, but no matter how many kooks are attracted to liberalism -- remember Peggy Joseph, who declared that Obama would pay her mortgage and put gas in her car? -- liberals never see these kooks as representative of their own ideology.
There is no cure for the liberal disorder of political psychosis, which erupts whenever it appears conservatives are gaining ground. If present trends continue, Republicans ought to make one concession on health-care reform -- free Xanax for Democrats on Nov. 3.
And don't let Frank Rich get his hands on a pilot's license.
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