It’s a place where nothing is supposed to happen, that upper right corner of New York – the state, not the city. Yes, there’s whole big state north of the upper right corner of New York, the Bronx, also oddly called New York. And of course if you chat with New Yorkers, anything north of the Bronx is always that mysterious and foreign “upstate.”
But there’s upstate, and then there’s nowhere. Upstate is Albany, the capital, and Rochester with Kodak and all that, and Buffalo, the home of hot wings and the Bills, and there’s Schenectady and Syracuse, and Ithaca with all the college kids, and the pretty Finger Lakes. But then there’s New York’s 23rd congressional district – a lot of the empty Adirondacks and then on up to Canada sitting just across the Saint Lawrence River. The cities in that odd corner of New York, such as they are, are Ogdensburg, Oswego, Plattsburgh and Watertown. And for those of us who have lived upstate, we do know Oswego, the city at the easternmost corner of Lake Ontario, with the most snow of anywhere you can imagine, as from late September to late April, any cold winds that blow out of Canada cross the lake, pick up moisture from it, and just bury that city. It’s a most unpleasant place. And, for me, way back when, you’d pass through Oswego and then staid and static Watertown to visit the family in the sleepy little town of Gouverneur. The local zinc mine kept the place moderately prosperous, and it was pleasant enough, in a Winesburg, Ohio sort of way. And at night you could hear the distant rumble of artillery practice from nearby Fort Drum. These days Fort Drum is home to the 10th Mountain Division, training for Afghanistan. That figures. You want god-forsaken mountains and miles and miles of nothing much. That edge of nowhere will do just fine.
But now that congressional district is in the news in a big way. It’s at the epicenter of Barack Obama’s fiendishly clever plan to destroy the Republican Party, which all started with an appointment. The place has been rock-ribbed Republican since the Civil War, and then their congressman, Republican John M. McHugh, resigned on September 21, 2009, to become Secretary of the Army. He wasn’t a bad choice, a harmless but smart and honest moderate Republican. It showed bipartisanship and all that, and of course McHugh was voted one of the fifty most beautiful people on Capitol Hill. That helps.
But of course McHugh had to be replaced, so a special election was schedule for November 3, 2009 – can’t have the folks up there not being represented. But that didn’t go well, and on Saturday, October 31, all hell broke loose:
The Republican candidate in a closely watched U.S. congressional race in New York state abruptly suspended her campaign on Saturday in a move that could boost a conservative’s battle against a Democrat next Tuesday.
Republican Dede Scozzafava was trailing in third place behind Conservative Party candidate Doug Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens, who were neck-and-neck in the race to fill a House of Representatives seat left vacant when Republican John McHugh resigned to serve as President Barack Obama’s Army secretary.
Prominent conservative organizations campaigned in New York’s 23rd congressional district against Scozzafava, a moderate Republican who supports gay rights and abortion rights.
Hoffman was endorsed by Sarah Palin, of course, but most of the other senior Republicans, and the party itself, had supported Scozzafava, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. But Glenn Beck and the Tea-Baggers hated her, or decided they did, to make a point, to recapture the party from anything like moderates. And they won. She gave up. Scozzafava said in a statement she had been outspent on both sides by her two opponents. What was the point?
So Obama set off a war for the soul of the Republican Party, by giving the sanctimonious and angry and often unhinged purists a chance to strut their stuff, for everyone to see. The New York Times’ Frank Rich sees this as pretty clever:
No matter what the results in that race on Tuesday, the Republicans are the sure losers. This could be a gift that keeps on giving to the Democrats through 2010, and perhaps beyond.
The governors’ races in New Jersey and Virginia were once billed as the marquee events of Election Day 2009 – a referendum on the Obama presidency and a possible Republican “comeback.” But preposterous as it sounds, the real action migrated to New York’s 23rd, a rural Congressional district abutting Canada. That this pastoral setting could become a GOP killing field, attracting an all-star cast of combatants led by Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, William Kristol and Newt Gingrich, is a premise out of a Depression-era screwball comedy. But such farces have become the norm for the conservative movement – whether the participants are dressing up in full “tea party” drag or not.
Yes, Rich used to be a theater critic, but his notion is that this “confirms just how swiftly the right has devolved into a wacky, paranoid cult that is as eager to eat its own as it is to destroy Obama.”
And he tells a sad tale, of the routine decision of eleven local Republican county chairmen to make Scozzafava the party’s nominee for the vacant seat, as she’s a moderate Republican from a moderate Republican district, and they had no problem that she wasn’t all that bothered about abortion as murder and same-sex marriage as the end of Western Civilization and all that, and she endorsed the Obama stimulus package, as the district could use some of that money. And the national party signed on. No one saw a problem. She wasn’t that different from McHugh, although not as pretty.
But little did she know she’d become a test case. Suddenly she was being trashed as a radical leftist and not a “true” conservative on the national stage, by folks who never hung around Gouverneur on a summer evening sipping beer on the front porch while the kids chased fireflies. An accountant and businessman named Doug Hoffman was the “true” conservative. Newt Gingrich endorsed Scozzafava as did John Boehner and Michael Steele – but they all got hammered by the Beck-Palin crowd. Michelle Malkin went off on Newt Gingrich, saying if he endorsed Scozzafava he could never run for president, as he’d probably appoint Al Sharpton as secretary of education and Al Gore as “global warming czar.”
Yeah, well, whatever. But Rich points out just who lined up to say screw-you to the national party and endorse the Conservative Party guy – William Kristol, Fred Thompson, Dick Armey, Michele Bachmann, The Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Club for Growth. Rich calls it a putsch.
And then the key event happened – the Hoffman endorsement from Sarah Palin on her Facebook page. Rich notes what happened next:
Such is Palin’s clout that Steve Forbes, Rick Santorum and Tim Pawlenty, the Minnesota governor (and presidential aspirant), promptly fell over one another in their Pavlovian rush to second her motion. They were joined by far-flung Republican congressmen from Kansas, Georgia, Oklahoma and California, not to mention a gaggle of state legislators from Colorado. On Fox News, Beck took up the charge, insinuating that Hoffman’s Republican opponent might be a fan of Karl Marx. Some $3 million has now been dumped into this race by outside groups.
Have any of the people ever seen Oswego in February? It was very odd. It seemed quite mad.
And they fell into what might have been Obama’s trap. Their hero, Hoffman, doesn’t even live in the district. And when he appeared before the editorial board of The Watertown Daily Times he “showed no grasp” of local issues as they noted the next day in an editorial. Hoffman complained that he should have received the questions in advance. But they had been asked by the paper in an editorial on the morning of his visit. No on his staff noticed. Dick Armey, the former House leader, the Texan, leapt to Hoffman’s defense – the newspaper’s questions were parochial. Yes, there are more important things than what the people in that off corner nowhere think are important – big issues, philosophic issues, moral issues. The local newspaper was just being foolishly selfish.
The Obama team must have been smiling at that, and Rich adds this:
Last week it turned out that Hoffman’s prime attribute to the radical right – as a take-no-prisoners fiscal conservative – was bogus. In fact he’s on the finance committee of a hospital that happily helped itself to a $479,000 federal earmark. Then again, without the federal government largess that the tea party crowd so deplores, New York’s 23rd would be a Siberia of joblessness. The biggest local employer is the pork-dependent military base, Fort Drum.
Ah, the plan is working perfectly. Maybe Hoffman was hired by the Obama team to run. And maybe the forgotten Democrat in the race will win, as the Republicans slug it out, but Rich says it’s even better for Democrats if Hoffman wins:
Punch-drunk with this triumph, the right will redouble its support of primary challengers to 2010 GOP candidates they regard as impure. That’s bad news for even a Republican as conservative as Kay Bailey Hutchison, whose primary opponent in the Texas governor’s race, the incumbent Rick Perry, floated the possibility of secession at a tea-bagger rally in April and hastily endorsed Hoffman on Thursday.
The more rightists who win GOP primaries, the greater the Democrats’ prospects next year. But the electoral math is less interesting than the pathology of this movement. Its antecedent can be found in the early 1960s, when radical-right hysteria carried some of the same traits we’re seeing now: seething rage, fear of minorities, maniacal contempt for government, and a Freudian tendency to mimic the excesses of political foes. Writing in 1964 of that era’s equivalent to today’s tea party cells, the historian Richard Hofstadter observed that the John Birch Society’s “ruthless prosecution” of its own ideological war often mimicked the tactics of its Communist enemies.
That Hofstadter essay is here and Rich says this is what is going on with Beck, Palin and those who hang on their words:
Though they constantly liken the president to various totalitarian dictators, it is they who are re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode. They drove out Arlen Specter, and now want to “melt Snowe” (as the blog Red State put it). The same Republicans who once deplored Democrats for refusing to let an anti-abortion dissident, Gov. Robert Casey of Pennsylvania, speak at the 1992 Clinton convention now routinely banish any dissenters in their own camp.
He goes on with more examples of that sort of thing, but notes it is odd to purify the party right now, as it’s small enough as it is, with seventeen percent of Americans identifying themselves as Republicans. Do you really want to shrink that?
And it all looks nutty, as Rich explains:
It’s become a Beltway truism that the White House’s (mild) spat with Fox News is counterproductive because it drives up the network’s numbers. But if curious moderate and independent voters are now tempted to surf there and encounter Beck’s histrionics for the first time, the president’s numbers will benefit as well. To the uninitiated, the tea party crowd comes across like the barflies in “Star Wars.”
Some White House staffer is grinning right about now. Damn, they took the bait.
As for the Scozzafava announcement, that she may have been the Republican nominee but she’s giving up, Steve Benen says this:
To this extent, the right-wing base has a feather in its cap this morning – it forced a moderate Republican to flee from the campaign she seemed likely to win as recently as a month ago.
For the Republican Party, however, it’s much tougher sell. Scozzafava had the support of the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional Committee – and she was still running third in a district the Republican Party has held since the Civil War.
The next question, of course, is what happens next. Recent polls show Hoffman and Democrat Bill Owens effectively tied, and where Scozzafava’s supporters go will dictate the outcome. Given the history of the district, Hoffman would appear poised to get a big boost. On the other hand, some locals are turned off by Hoffman’s right-wing positions, his unfamiliarity with local issues, and the fact that he doesn’t actually own a home in the congressional district he’s running in.
Indeed, there may well be some moderate Republicans who’ll hesitate before rewarding the far-right candidate who wants to drive moderates from the party.
And Andrew Sullivan says this:
No one knows what might happen now. For the insurgents, it means a scalp they will surely use to purge the GOP of any further dissidence. But the insurgents were also backed by the establishment, including Tim Pawlenty, who’s supposed to be the reasonable center.
What we’re seeing, I suspect, is an almost classic example of a political party becoming more ideological after its defeat at the polls. In order for that ideology to win, they will also have to portray the Obama administration as so far to the left that voters have no choice but to back the Poujadists waiting in the wings. And that, of course, is what they’re doing. There is a method to the Ailes-Drudge-Cheney-Rove denialism. They create reality, remember?
From the mindset of an ideologically purist base – where a moderate Republican in New York state is a “radical leftist” – this makes sense. But for all those outside the twenty percent self-identified Republican base, it looks like a mix of a purge and a clusterfuck. If Hoffman wins, and is then embraced by the GOP establishment, you have a recipe for a real nutroots take-over. This blood in the water will bring on more and more and deadlier and deadlier sharks.
And one his readers argues that a “good showing in 2010 may lead the Republican Party to espouse radical right ideas that will lead to a debacle worse 2012 than Goldwater’s in ’64.” It could happen.
And David Weigel looks at the current polling numbers, and the actual chances for Owens, the bystander, the Democrat:
The best news for Owens in the Siena Poll might be the popularity of President Obama – his approval is at 59 percent in this district, the highest it’s been during the whole campaign. If Hoffman maintains his advantage with independents and Republicans and gets his excited activists – who are really walking on air today – to turn out the vote, he has a clear path to victory. The Democratic response is obvious – define Hoffman as a creature of the far right, max out their base turnout with the help of unions – and will be aided by a high-profile Monday campaign appearance from Vice President Joe Biden.
That is, ride Obama’s coattails in a moderate Republican district, while pointing at the out-of-state folks frothing at the mouth, not that it matters that much:
Of course, the fate of one congressional district that Republicans have held for more than a century might be less meaningful, in the long run, than the victory conservative activists have scored over their party’s establishment. Would-be Republican leaders such as Newt Gingrich, and to a lesser extent Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee, have done themselves some damage by not getting on Hoffman’s bandwagon when it counted. Gingrich, in particular, who appeared on Fox News to make the case for Scozzafava, has quickly become a ridiculed figure among Tea Party activists.
Of course it doesn’t help Newt and the others that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee added fuel to the fire saying this – “Moderates are not welcome in the Republican Party and differing opinions will not be tolerated.” And they added a dig at the National Republican Campaign Committee – “The NRCC mishandled the race from day one. The NRCC spent nearly $1 million (which is a quarter of their current cash on hand) on a race where they didn’t understand the district or how the NY State party line ballot worked, they actively criticized the Conservative Party candidate, and they couldn’t lock in the endorsements of Republican Party leaders.” That’s not nice, just true.
And they got help from the Tea Bag Hero himself, Doug Hoffman:
This morning’s events prove what we have said for the last week; this campaign is a horserace between me and Nancy Pelosi’s handpicked candidate, Bill Owens. At this moment, the Democratic Party, the Working Families Party, ACORN, Big Labor and pro-abortion groups are flooding the district with troops and they are flooding the airwaves with a million dollars worth of negative ads. They are throwing mud; they are trying to stop me.
No, eleven local Republican county chairmen made Scozzafava, your first oppenent, that party’s nominee for the vacant seat, not Nancy Pelosi. And she may have had little to do with choosing Owens, which also was a local decision. And Glenn Beck and Dick Armey and Sarah Palin were flooding the airwaves from outside, for you, who don’t live in the district. As Sarah Palin likes to say, don’t make stuff up.
And The Hill reported the previous month that National Republican Campaign Committee spokesman Paul Lindsay said that Scozzafava was the right candidate, who was picked by the local party leaders and had an appeal to the district’s voters. And Lindsay’s view of Hoffman, who had also interviewed with party leaders for the nomination – “Fortunately, the local Republican county chairs had the foresight to see that Doug Hoffman lacked the integrity and qualities needed to be elected to anything – let alone Congress.” You could look it up.
Still, Digby offers this:
Seriously, it appears that the tea-baggers are gaining steam. And lest we think they are just a funny joke, it would probably pay to recall instances in history when radical, paranoid right wingers got legitimate political power. The joke can easily turn into a nightmare.
But see this video clip from Fox News – Bill O’Reilly is “fascinated” with Sarah Palin and has Glenn Beck on The O’Reilly Factor to talk about her prospects. She may run for president, as she should, as she’s the best, and her upcoming book tour is a “make or break” situation regarding her political future. If she blows away the media with her charm and brilliance and authenticity, she’ll be well positioned for 2012. And she’ll be the next president. And then they agree that resigning as governor before had even completed her first term was a “smart move.”
And then Beck says this:
And I think she’s also positioning herself for a third party. By the time this election runs around for the president, I’m sorry, but unless the Republicans and the Democrats wake up, a third party will win.
And that’s how we got President Ross Perot after all.
It’s hard to imagine there was a master plan here, one that started with appointing a new Secretary of the Army and ended with the Republican Party imploding, but it happened. And then there was the oddest thing of all. Someone noticed the empty upper-right corner of New York, the state, not the city, where nothing ever happens. So much for that.