The political establishment can't make Mr. Scary go away. What is it with these so-called Tea Partiers? Haven't they been demonized enough to take away their credibility?
Judging from the results on the last major primary day of this election year, the answer is no.
The Democrats have branded the "movement" as one fueled by racism, so rational people, the thinking goes, should avoid being associated with the phenomenon. It is evil in its heart. It has base motives. Its members don't understand the wonders of government. They seem restive, angry and full of malice toward their rulers.
The Republicans, having done their darndest to co-opt the Tea Party and pretend to be on its side, woke up Wednesday morning to find that a woman named Christine O'Donnell, a perennial office-seeker of heretofore little distinction, endorsed by Sarah Palin, had decisively whipped nine-term U.S. Rep. Mike Castle in the primary election for the party's nomination for the U.S. Senate in Delaware.
The primary voters weren't swayed by the GOP's attacks on its own Ms. O'Donnell, who, consensus has it, has little chance to prevail in the general election, perhaps scuttling the Republican dream of regaining control of the U.S. Senate. Democrats rejoice; at least a little bit. But they remain in jeopardy, reconciled to a mid-term thrashing, even should they retain the Vice President Joe Biden's former seat.
One would think liberals like columnist Ruth Marcus of the Washington Post would be pleased with this scenario. In Ms. Marcus's case, one would be wrong. She blogged that the O'Donnell victory is "scary," and that the result made her "despondent." She, you see, was counting on a Castle victory to help shape a Senate featuring "a more robust cadre of moderate Republicans."
In liberal speak, this means Republicans who can be counted on to be "bipartisan," that is, prone to lay down their supposed principles in order to achieve legislation favored by liberals. She says conservative Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina is "disturbingly powerful" and that it is plausible that the 2010 elections will result in "a bolstered DeMint caucus." Oh, the horror of it all.
But wait, there's something that frightens Ruth Marcus even more: That the "ripple effect of victories such as O'Donnell's on other Republican lawmakers" may see them protecting their right flank against the Tea Party threat, thereby rendering bipartisanship all the more unlikely. While the Tea Partiers and the Democrats may be happy with the Delaware result, "it's not good news for the cause of good government," she says.
Where is this good government?
What is good about a government that continually accrues more power to itself while bankrupting the country? The accumulated federal debt is approaching $14 trillion. There were more manufacturing jobs in this nation 60 years ago than there are today. Those jobs are in China now, and they aren't coming back. We like cheap goods, but there's a hidden high price to pay for them.
I read that Democratic Rep. John Dingell of Michigan is running for his 28th term in the House. He succeeded his father as a member of Congress in 1955. Between father and son, that seat has been in the family since 1933. To me, that's not something to be celebrated. It's a sign of political calcification. Besides, at 84, the man should have the decency to step aside.
National Republicans were shaken by some other primary results, such as New York's, where the very wealthy Carl Paladino self-financed his way to an upset win over former congressman Rick Lazio, the establishment candidate, to run for governor against — speaking of sons — Mario Cuomo's boy, Andrew, the current state attorney general.
The GOP was no doubt relieved that Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., the former Maryland governor, was an easy primary winner over the Sarah Palin-endorsed Brian Murphy, setting up the much-anticipated rematch with Martin O'Malley, who unseated Mr. Ehrlich four years ago.
I agree with my colleague Blair Lee that the Tea Party movement, while an annoyance to the Republican Party in the short term, will likely change the party itself in the long term, moving it to the right, into the actual embrace of the ideals of limited government and the protection of individual liberties.
It will force Republicans to be Republicans, and then we'll see what happens.
Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon, on 1090 WBAL-AM and WBAL.com. His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.