A couple of quick points from his comments. One is that Rich weirdly parsed the voting results in the 2008 election to say that McCain won only "white senior citizens and the dwindling fifth of America that’s still rural." As the Howler points out, "But in fact, McCain-Palin won the 'demographic group' known as 'white voters' by a roughly 56-43 percent margin. (That has been a fairly typical margin among white voters in recent presidential elections.)"
Somerby also complained about Rich's sloppy use of "Stalinist" and various other vague insults. For one thing, it plays right along with the massive Bircher-type thinking promoted by Glenn Beck and large parts of the Republican Party that liberalism, socialism, communism, fascism, Nazism, a decent health insurance system, cannibalism and incest are all pretty much the same thing. (Okay, I added the last two, and I'm sure Somerby wouldn't approve of my doing that.)
More specifically, Rich says of those fringe elements like Sarah Palin and Rush Limbaugh that have so very little influence in the Republican Party (in Rich's Pod Pundit reality) that they "are re-enacting Stalinism in full purge mode". By which he means they criticized Arlen Specter before his switch to the Democratic Party for being insufficiently conservative. And they supported the Conservative Party candidate in today's special election in a rural New York Congressional district over the Republican candidate.
Now, there are several ways that you could define Stalinism, depending on what you're looking at. But the bare fact of intra-party fighting over their Party's political program simply does not qualify.
But I don't want to be prissy about Democrats calling Republicans name. Because the Democrats have been doing way too little name-calling for at least the last two decades in the face of the Republicans' well-funded full-time sleaze-slinging.
Palin supporters may conceivably constitute a faction of sorts within the Republican Party. But I don't see any point in trying to conjure some responsible and moderate faction within the Republican Party that was somehow completely invisible during the Cheney-Bush administration. But to buy into the teapartiers' pretense that they are some insurgent group out to bring nasty radicals into a respectable Republican Party is silly. Yes, the radicalization of the Republicans is proceeding. But it's not a new path for them, and it's not the result of a Tea Party grassroots "insurgency".
None of them fall for it as much as Frank Rich does, But these two stories all buy into the concept to some extent:
For Democrats, NY-23 is Heads We Win, Tails They Lose by Blue Texan FireDogLake 11/03/09: "Today in New York’s 23rd district, either a Democrat will be elected to Congress for the first time since Reconstruction, or Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin will officially take over the Republican party."
Digby and David Dayen both have more clear-eyed takes on this situation.
In Teabag FrontHullabaloo 11/02/09, Digby takes off from this article, Sarah Palin and the Tea Party Movement Are at War With the GOP by Adele M. Stan AlterNet 11/02/09. Adele Stan cautions about the squabbles between some older-line Party leaders and the Palinites in the context of the much-publicized Congressional special election today in the 23rd Congressional District of New York:
While it's hard not to crack a smile at the Republicans' travails, a word of caution may be in order.
... when push came to shove and the regular people of 23rd, backed up by the GOP establishment, appeared poised to elect the pro-choice, pro-union [Republican Party candidate] Scozzafava, the Tea Party astroturf machine moved in, backing [Conservative Party candidate] Hoffman, who promised pro-business, anti-woman and anti-labor votes in Congress. ...
Although Hoffman's candidacy seemed to come out of nowhere, it was the endorsement of Armey, chairman of the astroturfing group FreedomWorks, who put him on the map. Then Palin signed on via this note on her Facebook page, putting Hoffman over the top ...
She goes on to detail how well-financed Republicans like Armey, who is in good standing in the Party along with Palin and Rush, gave the push that forced the Republican candidate out of the race.
But this wasn't some grassroots uprising against a responsibly conservative Republican Party. It was Republicans very much in their Party's mainstream (which is very different than saying their political positions are mainstream - enforcing Party discipline in the somewhat unusual circumstances of a special election. Digby sums it up very nicely:
Stan shows that the conservatives are playing the long game and they know how to do it. They don't care that they might lose in the short run or that the ruling elites think they are kooky. What they care about is that when the electorate looks to change horses, as it always does, the Republican Party will be firmly in the hands of the conservatives and further to the right when they last checked in.
Stan phrases it this way:
In the short run, this could be good for the Democrats.
But American politics is cyclical in nature. No victory is permanent. Sooner or later, voters tire of one side and elect the other.
As the Republican Party condenses to its most bitter strain, the poison is distilled. Chances are, that poison will be dispersed into the populace when voters at last tire of the Democrats. And that would be very bad for all of us.
The Republicans' maneuvers in the New York special election - which the Democrat won - were only a special case of the kind of primary challenges to insufficiently zealous ideologues discussed in this story: Uncivil War: Conservatives to challenge a dozen GOP candidates by Charles Mahtesian and Alex Isenstadt Politico 11/03/09
David Dayen in The Hidden Storyline: No Progressive Economic Pushback Killing DemocratsFDL News Desk 11/03/09 remembers what our celebrity pundits can barely notice because times are great for them: these are economic hard times, unemployment is rising and there's no job upturn in sight. And so far it's painfully obvious to anyone except our Big Pundits that the Obama administration and the Congressional Democrats have been far, far more willing to bail out Wall Street multimillionaires on easy terms than they have been to put the unemployed back to work. In policy terms, what the administration has done is certainly better than what the Republicans favored and still favor. But, as Digby and Adele Stan both point out, when times are bad like they are not, some portion of persuadable swing voters are likely to see elections in binary terms: if I'm not happy with how the In party is handling things, I'll vote for the Out party. David writes:
This is not limited to teabagger activists or deeply conservative voting blocks. All over the country, the fiscal scolds have started their push, to fearmonger about the national debt and “runaway spending,” to stop Democrats from taking the necessary steps in the midst of a recession and a job-loss recovery, to call any effort at public investment reckless and wrong, to whip up concerns about debt. And there is virtually nobody from the Democratic side on the playing field to rebut these concerns. [my emphasis]
That's why it would be foolish for Democratic politicians or activists to buy the smug complacency that Frank Rich is peddling.