If elections in the United States were decided by comparative media coverage, Christine O’Donnell would be Supreme Overlord by now. As it is, a new poll conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University finds Christ-Od trailing her opponent, Chris Coons, by 17 points. If the name of that university sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because it’s the one from which O’Donnell falsely claimed to graduate—you know, back when that was the most alarming thing we knew about her. God, the irony is sweet. That’s irony, right? I don’t even know anymore.
O’Donnell will probably still win, since Sarah Palin will be campaigning for her and it’s therefore only a matter of time before shrill crowds of fat white people rise up out of the ground to demand that she stop the government from doing anything so we can all pray. Until that happens, though, let’s assume the polls are right. Despite her surprising primary victory and the power of the Tea Party—both of which have been held up as evidence that Republicans are poised for a resurgence in November—the vast majority of people in Delaware do not plan to vote for a dishonest religious fundamentalist with no job.
Perhaps this is just me, but before I read the polls I though O’Donnell at least had a chance. She is surely the most nationally prominent local candidate in America—sorry, Rand Paul, but that’s what you get for having enough money to hire an image consultant—and I guess that created the impression in my mind that she was, you know, important. It turns out that she’s just hilarious.
This rise of O’Donnell as a national figure in conjunction with her complete failure to rise as a viable candidate seems potentially to mirror the rise of the Tea Party itself. It goes without saying that we at Combat! blog find the Tea Party a lot of fun to talk about. So does the national media. But while the Tea Party is clearly a phenomenon, it’s not clear at all how much a phenomenon it is.
By pure coincidence, the Tea Party came into existence shortly after the 2008 generals. The November elections will constitute the first quantitative referendum on its influence, and despite hyperbolic predictions of a Republican landslide, most of the races with Tea Party candidates are too close to call. It’s possible that our national (and local) obsession with the Tea Party is similar to our national obsession with O’Donnell: a function of remarkable craziness, not remarkable popularity.
As Michele Bachmann reminds us, a thousand stupid people shouting together tend to look like a million. It’s possible that the Tea Party has not tapped into a great vein of populist rage so much as one of volume, brining together those members of society whose opinions are unencumbered by critical evaluation. They may just be a national organization of people who, like Christine O’Donnell, don’t see why they need to know what they are talking about. Fortunately for America, there may be a lot fewer of such people than we have lately come to believe.