Frank Rich explains:
The battle for upstate New York 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. The movement's undisputed leaders, Palin and Beck, neither of whom has what Palin once called the "actual responsibilities" of public office, would gladly see the Republican Party die on the cross of right-wing ideological purity. Over the short term, at least, their wish could come true.
The New York fracas was ignited by the routine decision of 11 local Republican county chairmen to anoint an assemblywoman, Dede Scozzafava, as their party's nominee for the vacant seat. The 23rd is in safe Republican territory that hasn't sent a Democrat to Congress in decades. And Scozzafava is a mainstream conservative by New York standards; one statistical measure found her voting record slightly to the right of her fellow Republicans in the Assembly. But she has occasionally strayed from orthodoxy on social issues (abortion, same-sex marriage) and endorsed the Obama stimulus package. To the right's Jacobins, that's cause to send her to the guillotine.
("The G.O.P. Stalinists Invade Upstate New York" New York Times, Oct 31, 09)
But how did the GOP become a "paranoid cult"?
The Republicans are arsonists who burned down our national home. They combined the failed ideologies of the Religious Right, so-called free market deregulation and the Neoconservative love of war to light a fire that has consumed America.
I used to be one of them. As recently as 2000 I worked to get Senator McCain elected in that year's primary. I have a file of handwritten thank you notes from Presidents Ford, Reagan, Bush I and II. In the 1970s and early 80s I hung out with Jack Kemp and bought into his "supply side" myth and even wrote a book he endorsed pushing his ideas.) There's more, but take it from me; my parents and I were about as tight with -- and useful to -- the Republican Party as anyone. We played a big part creating the Religious Right.
In the mid 1980s I left the Religious Right, after I realized just how very anti-American they are, (the theme I explore in my book Patience With God--Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion Or Atheism). They wanted America to fail in order to prove they were right about America's "moral decline."
They're still at it. Why are the ultra-conservatives, the loony "deather", "birther", "Obama-is-the-Antichrist" right killing their own party? Because they are into purity.
Problem is life is full of paradox!
Since the right won't accept colors other than black and white on their palette they are condemned to live in an alternative universe of absolutes in a world that demands nuance.
How can anyone who loves our country support the Republicans now? Barry church-and-state-must-be-separate Goldwater, William F. civility-is-next-to-godliness Buckley defined the modern conservatism that used to be what the Republican Party I belonged to was about. No longer! Today no actual conservative can be a Republican.
Reagan would despise today's wholly negative Republican Party. And can you picture the gentlemanly and always polite Ronald I-legalized-abortion-in-California Reagan, endorsing a radio hate-jock slob who crudely mocked a man with Parkinson's and who now says he wants an American president to fail?!
With people like Palin, Limbaugh and Beck as the loudmouth image of the Republican Party -- Republicans need no enemies. But something far more serious has happened than an image problem: the Republican Party has become the party of obstruction at just the time when all Americans should be pulling together for the good of our country. Instead, Republicans are today's fifth column sabotaging American renewal.
These are not just the "Party Of No", these are the traitors who would rather legalize torture than medical care for all.
For the party that created our crises of misbegotten war, mismanaged economy, the lack of regulation of our banking industry, handing our country to rich crooks... to obstruct the one person who is trying to repair the damage is obscene. And now they are eating their own, since once you embrace purity no one is ever pure enough. This is the result of replacing planet earth with planet ideology, politics with religion.
Unless you haven't been paying attention to the recent history of the Republican Party you will know that today Republican ideology and energy is derived from three sources: the Religious Right, the Neoconservative Movement and corporate business interests.
The Republican problem was and is a systemic disparagement of government, community, faith in our institutions, family, God's creation and the mitigating institutions that put a check on something any party aligned with a religious movement should know all about: sin. Greed is not the only problem. The genius of the American system is supposedly that we have a system of checks and balances. The Republicans destroyed those checks and balances by deregulation and by trying to turn America into a defacto theocracy.
Bush felt no guilt about promoting completely unqualified people to high posts merely on the basis of social, ideological or political connections. I'll take that a step further: I don't think Bush ever wanted the government to work.
The Republicans have been trying to deconstruct our government for 40 years.
Now the national Republican leadership -- yes, that's Beck, Limbaugh, Palin -- would rather have a completely unqualified goof run than a qualified person, in other words "do" governance the way Bush did, as long as ideology is served.
As Rich writes:
Who exactly is the third-party maverick arousing such ardor? Doug Hoffman doesn't even live in the district. When he appeared before the editorial board of The Watertown Daily Times 10 days ago, he "showed no grasp" of local issues, as the subsequent editorial put it. Hoffman complained that he should have received the questions in advance -- blissfully unaware that they had been asked by the paper in an editorial on the morning of his visit.
If Republicans could feel shame there would have been a series of contrite public apologies by now for the fiasco of non-governing that typified the Bush administration. My pension, other people's pensions, our homes, jobs and economy are in chaos because of Republicans. Young Americans are dying in Iraq because of Republicans. They blew our chance in Afghanistan too. The world is a more dangerous place because of Republicans. Until President Obama was sworn in America was hated because of Republicans.
Far from saying they are sorry for the state our country is in the Republicans are now indulging in belligerent anti-Obama posturing on the one hand and a Stalinist purge of their own ranks on the other hand and a Church Lady-style sniffing out of anyone not purely crazy enough for them and sending them off to face the Palin/Beck/Limbaugh firing squad.
Why? Because the Republicans have become the party of perpetual fear of facts, fear of paradoxical dilemma and fear of truth. Fear eats her young.
Frank Schaeffer is the author of Crazy for God: How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, and Lived to Take All (or Almost All) of It Back and the forthcoming Patience With God: Faith For People Who Don't Like Religion (Or Atheism).