This week, the Republican primary for governor officially became impossible. Of all the miserable choices voters are going to be faced with this fall, this has to be the worst. Who do they want to pick to head their party's ticket and run against Andrew Cuomo? The upstate businessman who sends friends pornographic e-mails and racist "jokes" about Barack Obama, and whose family values candidacy coexists with an extramarital love child?
Or the hitherto boring mainstream Republican whose inability to get out ahead of even the most pathetic opposition (see paragraph 1) sent him on a frenzied search for an issue divisive and insane enough to win over the Tea Party folks. Which ended in a miserable, appalling campaign ad that breaks the one rule even New York politicians seemed to have accepted as a moral code - that you don't use pictures of the smoldering ruins of Ground Zero to resuscitate a floundering political career.
The battle for the Republican gubernatorial nomination is now officially being fought over who can whip up the most religious and racial hysteria over the "the mosque."
"The mosque is a symbol of the triumph and conquest of Islam and they want to celebrate that triumph in the dust of the World Trade Center," said Carl Paladino at an upstate Tea Party gathering. Paladino is the porn-emailing, racist-joke-spreading option in the primary.
In theory, Rick Lazio, the ex-Congressman who's pitted against Paladino, should be able to win with an I'm-not-crazy campaign. But Lazio is a very unexciting candidate, something the Republicans learned when they ran him against Hillary Clinton in her first Senate race. His campaign is foundering, he's desperate, and so he's decided to play the Ground Zero card.
"Now, a terrorist-sympathizing imam wants to build a $100 million mosque near ground zero. Where is this money coming from? Who is really behind it? Incredibly, Andrew Cuomo defends it ..." says the new Lazio ad, in which the candidate stands in front of pictures of the wreckage of the World Trade Center.
This is appalling in so many ways it's hard to count. But let's try a few:
1) The "terrorist-sympathizing" imam is a moderate who has traveled to Muslim countries on behalf of the State Department to spread good will toward the United States. None of which we're getting now that people like Lazio have turned our country into a symbol of anti-Muslim prejudice around the world.
2) Not a mosque. How many times do we have to say this? Muslims have been praying in the building we're talking about for some time. If the cultural center is built, there will still be a prayer room, but also a swimming pool. Is Lazio feeling threatened by water-borne Islam?
3) It's as "near" Ground Zero as a number of porn shops and peep shows.
4) Is this Lazio's idea of leadership? Encouraging people to behave in the worst way possible so he can score political points?
Hard to believe that back in 2002 Cuomo was virtually drummed out of the gubernatorial race for saying that after the terror attack, Gov. George Pataki really didn't do much more than hold Rudy Giuliani's coat. At the time, that was seen as so tasteless, such a bad use of sacred memories, that he was thought to be political toast forever.
Now Republicans get to choose the winner of the race to turn the Ground Zero memory into a symbol of political opportunism run off the cliff.
Sorry, folks. But if you want to sit this one out, we'll understand.