Friday's column by Paul Krugman, the Times' alleged economics columnist, "The Big Hate," is a quintessential example of his modus operandi: Parrot the left-wing blog argument of the day in slightly varnished form in the august pages of the nation's most influential newspaper. The text box works as a topic sentence: "The conservative establishment and right-wing extremism." He warned that right-wingers might be readying a terrorist attack like Oklahoma City, and that people like Rush Limbaugh would be at least partly to blame.
Krugman's theme: Remember that notorious report issued by the Dept. of Homeland Security that vaguely tarred anyone active in conservative causes like abortion or immigration as potential extremists.? Well, it's now been vindicated by the actions of two "right-wing" gunmen, the murderers of abortionist George Tiller and Holocaust Museum guard Stephen Tyrone Johns.
Back in April, there was a huge fuss over an internal report by the Department of Homeland Security warning that current conditions resemble those in the early 1990s - a time marked by an upsurge of right-wing extremism that culminated in the Oklahoma City bombing.
Conservatives were outraged. The chairman of the Republican National Committee denounced the report as an attempt to "segment out conservatives in this country who have a different philosophy or view from this administration" and label them as terrorists.
But with the murder of Dr. George Tiller by an anti-abortion fanatic, closely followed by a shooting by a white supremacist at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the analysis looks prescient.
There is, however, one important thing that the D.H.S. report didn't say: Today, as in the early years of the Clinton administration but to an even greater extent, right-wing extremism is being systematically fed by the conservative media and political establishment.
The DHS report did smear returning veterans as potential targets for hate groups, but I don't think even they had in mind veterans from World War II, like Holocaust Museum gunman James von Brunn.
Krugman lit into Fox host Bill O'Reilly for calling abortionist George Tiller "Tiller the Baby Killer," and accused Fox News and the Republican National Committee of having "gone out of their way to provide a platform for conspiracy theories and apocalyptic rhetoric."
And at this point, whatever dividing line there was between mainstream conservatism and the black-helicopter crowd seems to have been virtually erased.
Exhibit A for the mainstreaming of right-wing extremism is Fox News's new star, Glenn Beck. Here we have a network where, like it or not, millions of Americans get their news - and it gives daily airtime to a commentator who, among other things, warned viewers that the Federal Emergency Management Agency might be building concentration camps as part of the Obama administration's "totalitarian" agenda (although he eventually conceded that nothing of the kind was happening).
The whole FEMA concentration camps myth was also a theme among paranoids during the Bush years, but on the left, not the right. It's the sort of modular conspiracy theory that can be passed back and forth from the extreme left and extreme right, like the gate keys to the nonexistent camps. Krugman didn't see fit to criticize the extreme-left version of the conspiracy during the Bush years.
Krugmanwent on to criticize The Washington Times for running an opinion piece suggesting Obama "may actually be" a Muslim, and Rush Limbaugh for "peddling conspiracy theories," distorted examples he got from the left-wing Media Matters. Krugman concluded:
What will the consequences be? Nobody knows, of course, although the analysts at Homeland Security fretted that things may turn out even worse than in the 1990s - that thanks, in part, to the election of an African-American president, "the threat posed by lone wolves and small terrorist cells is more pronounced than in past years."
And that's a threat to take seriously. Yes, the worst terrorist attack in our history was perpetrated by a foreign conspiracy. But the second worst, the Oklahoma City bombing, was perpetrated by an all-American lunatic. Politicians and media organizations wind up such people at their, and our, peril.