Frank Rich's Sunday column, "The Rage Won't End on Election Day," is one long and ludicrous attempt to link atrocities, real and hypothetical, to political metaphors brandished by Republican candidates and conservative political hosts that Rich hates.
First Rich slimed Carl Paladino, the Republican candidate for New York governor, with the torture in the Bronx of three men for being gay, before moving on to the usual targets of Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin.
Carl Paladino began his New York gubernatorial campaign by bragging he'd "clean out Albany with a baseball bat." When an ally likened his main Albany target, the (Jewish) leader of the State Assembly, to "an antichrist or Hitler," he enthusiastically endorsed the slur. We also learned of Paladino's repertory of gag e-mails - among them a pornographic picture of a woman having sex with a horse and a photo of an African tribal ritual captioned "Obama Inauguration Rehearsal." How blind we were not to recognize that his victory in a Republican primary under the proud Tea Party banner was inevitable.
A week ago New Yorkers were presented with a vivid reminder of how a bat can be used as a weapon. A pack of young thugs was charged with torturing three men in the Bronx for being gay, one of whom, The Times reported, was sodomized with "a small baseball bat."
It's probably safe to assume that no one in this lynching party has heard of Paladino. Presumably he has heard of them, but a man of Tea Party principles will not compromise, no matter what may be happening in the real world. Don't tread on Carl! And so last Sunday, as the city was reeling from both the Bronx bloodbath and the earlier leap of a bullied gay Rutgers freshman off the George Washington Bridge, Paladino visited a fringe Orthodox synagogue in Brooklyn to stand his ground. He attacked gays for supposedly plotting to brainwash children into accepting the validity of homosexuality.
That wave of anger began with the parallel 2008 cataclysms of the economy's collapse and Barack Obama's ascension. The mood has not subsided since. But in the final stretch of 2010, the radical right's anger is becoming less focused, more free-floating - more likely to be aimed at "government" in general, whatever the location or officials in charge. The anger is also more likely to claim minorities like gays, Latinos and Muslims as collateral damage. This is a significant and understandable shift, if hardly a salutary one. The mad-as-hell crowd in America, still not seeing any solid economic recovery on the horizon, will lash out at any convenient scapegoat.
Rich also employed the shooting of a guard at the Holocaust Museum in D.C. in June 2009 by James W. von Brunn, who Rich called "a neo-Nazi Obama-hater" - a strange term to use for an 88-year-old with a long history of conspiracy theories. He implausibly linked lone gunman von Brunn to rifles brought to health care rallies and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. (Rich didn't save a slot in his history of violence for Major Nidal Hasan, who murdered 13 at Fort Hood in the name of Islam.)
The moment passed. Glenn Beck, also on Fox, spoke for most on the right when he dismissed the shooter as a "lone gunman nutjob." Those who showed up with assault rifles at presidential health care rallies that summer were similarly minimized as either solitary oddballs or overzealous Second Amendment patriots. Few cared when The Boston Globe reported last fall that the Secret Service was overwhelmed by death threats against the president as well as a rise in racist hate groups and antigovernment fervor. It's no better now. In a cover article last month, Barton Gellman wrote in Time that the magazine's six-month investigation found that "the threat level against the president and other government targets" is at its highest since the antigovernment frenzy that preceded Timothy McVeigh's bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995.
From Paladino, to Beck, to Sarah Palin, to an obscure congressman, and back to Paladino (bizarrely blamed for a deranged person attacking a Muslim cabdriver) no one is safe from Rich's baseless free-style smearing:
As [Washington Post reporter Dana] Milbank has written, "it's not fair to blame Beck for violence committed by his fans," but he would nonetheless "do well to stop encouraging extremists." The same could be said of the many politicians who are emulating the Beck template - especially given the tinderbox state of the nation. Whether it's Sarah Palin instructing her acolytes to "reload" or a congressman yelling "baby killer!" at a colleague on the House floor or Sharron Angle, the Tea Party senatorial candidate from Nevada, proposing that citizens consider "Second Amendment remedies" to "protect themselves against a tyrannical government," we know where this can lead.
Even Paladino's short, crumbling campaign can take credit for a share of the real-world damage in New York's civil war over the "ground zero mosque" this summer. His television commercials calling the proposed Islamic center "a monument to those who attacked our country" helped push his primary campaign over the top, noticeably raising the city's temperature. The fever peaked not quite three weeks after his ads first appeared, when a passenger slashed a New York cab driver in the face and throat simply because he was a Muslim.