One of Jesse Walker's most interesting observations in his already-classic October piece on "The Paranoid Center" is that, in a direct inversion of Richard Hofstadter's theory, the establishmentarians who try to scare us about the terribly dangerous fringe end up aping the tactics and even language of the people they so loathe. New York Times columnist Frank Rich, whose commentary about the political right this year has been among the very stupidest in a remarkably dull-witted season, manages to go one step further: In an op-ed on New York's Dictrict 23 congressional election, Rich embodies Walker's observation at the exact same time as quoting Hofstadter's. Check it out:
[T]he 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.
The same could be said of Beck, Palin and their acolytes. Though they constantly liken the president to various totalitarian dictators, it is they who are re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode.
How do you even get to a place like that?
For those of you keeping metaphorical score at home: Stalin's Great Purge (just to name his most famous one) included roughly 1,000 executions a day, over two years. The alleged Glenn Beck/Sarah Palin purge, meanwhile, has resulted…brace yourself…in a moderate Republican suspending her campaign for Congress to make way for a conservative independent. Yeah, totally the same.