Sunday, November 08, 2009

Owens' win in NY 23: bad for Democrats, good for the country?

After basking a bit in the tea partiers' election-night shock when their insurgent darling Doug Hoffman went down in NY District 23, Frank Rich cautions:
The Democrats’ celebration was also premature: Hoffman’s defeat is potentially more harmful to them than to the Republicans....it increases the odds that the Republicans will not do Democrats the great favor of committing suicide between now and the next Election Day.
Quite so. But what may be bad for Democrats in the short term is good for the country.

The country needs the Republican party to step back from the brink. Other mature democracies have fringe parties that play primarily to voters' fears and fantasies, but those parties exist within multiparty systems. In times of stress their vote may approach or crack 20% of the total, and everyone draws a breath and notes the electorate's anger.

We have only two national parties. If one of them shrinks to attract the affiliation of less than 30% of the electorate and retreats entirely into fringe party thinking and tactics, that's dangerous. The tea partiers' lies and paranoid fantasies; their demonization of a reform effort as incremental, cautious, and indeed historically Republican in its genesis as the pending health care bills; their glorification of the willful ignorance of Palin and Bachmann and their rapt attention to transparent demagogues like Beck and Limbaugh, is all fringe party behavior. Those who equate health insurance mandates or voluntary end of life counseling with fascism are themselves potential fascists -- demonizers of opposition, rabid advocates of torture, paranoid fantasists.

If that fringe entirely captures one of our two parties, the next big shock -- a world market collapse like that predicted by Roubini, a major terrorist attack -- could push such people into power. If, meanwhile, new Republican governors in purple states go to work with even a modicum of pragmatism -as Christie at least will have to do -- that could have a powerful demonstration effect for Republican decision-makers.

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