I'm not celebrating. First, I don't take it as a given that O'Donnell will lose in the general election. A wide swath of Americans casts their votes without giving much thought at all to who they are voting for, and those who want to vote against Obama will vote for O'Donnell no matter how crazy she seems. I am not sure that trading the near certainty of having Mike Castle, a moderate Republican and a reasonable man, for even a 10% chance of Christine O'Donnell is a good risk. And I would put her chance of winning at much higher than that, at least 25%. People are angry and scared, and angry, scared people cannot be counted on to act rationally.
Second, I think wins by people like Christine O'Donnell are signs of something very wrong with America. A lot of us took the election of Obama as a sign of positive changes in America: the decline of racism and nativism, a desire for rational government by intellectuals with ideas, revulsion with mideast wars, a preference for a man of calm temperment over firebrands. The surge of angry paleo-Republicanism over the past year shows that Obama's election was the product of particular circumstances -- war fatigue, Bush fatigue, the Wall Street crisis -- and that the forces of racism, nativism, fear, and unreason are still very strong in America. The Tea Party movement is stoking the siege mentality among white Americans, and every victory only encourages these people to think that they truly are the "Real Americans." One of O'Donnell's supporters told the Times,
I think people are smart enough now to know the world we are living in is going wrong and we need people like her to make it right.Note, once again, the lack of any concrete grievances or particular policy recommendations. Things are just going wrong, because the wrong people are in charge. To people who think this way, O'Donnell's incoherence on every issue just doesn't matter. What matters is that she is one of them and shares their anger at how things are.
Celebrating O'Donnell's victory because it will help the Democrats hold the Senate is, I think, short-sighted and narrow-minded. The anger that drove her candidacy, the sense that the world is arrayed against hard-working white people, is the real danger in America now, and we should try to defeat it at every turn.
Perhaps it will be good to actually have a referendum on these guys. Then we'll know if it's that "people" are scared and angry, or a small, loud minority is scared and angry. If the tea party loses in a fair fight, then we'll know they aren't some big cultural wave (at least, not yet). Of course, if they win, we'll know we're in trouble.
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