We live in scary times. This week's primary vote results emphasized just how scary times have become.
The country is bouncing back and forth between partisan loyalties at a rate not recently witnessed. The so-called Tea Party came from nowhere with an extreme agenda and is now forcing moderate Republicans out of office at a whiz-bang rate.
After Tuesday's primary results, the Christian Science Monitor released a poll showing 44 percent of Americans view the Tea Party in a favorably light:
"But the loosely organized 'taxed enough already' movement, which has now claimed 18 primary and special election victories in support of mostly conservative Republican candidates, remains a polarizing force, with 41 percent of Americans viewing it unfavorably." (http://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Election-2010/2010/0915/Tea-party-is-polari....)
At this time it's impossible to say whether Tea Party victors can tote their victorious campaign strategies to the finish line in general elections. The mainstream Republican Party, whose candidates were upset by Tea Party challengers, believes not. In Delaware this week Tea Party upstart Christine O'Donnell won the GOP Senate nomination in a fight against long-time moderate and winner of many statewide elections (including governor) U.S. Representative Michael Castle.
The New York Times reports she most likely will not receive the party's backing or financial support heading into the general election, as party strategists said, "they would likely direct their money elsewhere -- a sign that they believed that Ms. O'Donnell could not prevail in a general election. The Democratic nominee for the seat is Chris Coons, the county executive in New Castle County." (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/16/us/politics/16elect.html.)
Republicans were counting on picking up the Delaware Senate seat formerly occupied by Vice President Joe Biden. They now believe Ms. O'Donnell's victory in the primary means Democrat Coons will win in November.
We all know primary races attract the party's most extreme voters on the left and on the right. General elections are a different story. In those, candidates have to appeal to independents and voters of the opposing party. It's become an entirely different race.
It's easy to understand the frustration of Tea Party members with their own GOP and with Democrats on tax and deficit issues. Former President George W. Bush turned his party from one of fiscal restraint to one of huge deficits and bigger government. There is nowhere for small-government, low-tax voters to turn. But why they must carry the freight of social wedge issues with them is less understandable. Those issues turned out to be huge losers for the GOP in 2006 and 2008 and doom many Tea Party candidates to failure in the general election.
But Democrats also contributed to the success of the come-from-nowhere Tea Party, for two main reasons. First, Democrats failed while they had control of both chambers of Congress and of the White House to make more headway battling the economic recession. They also forced an unpopular and expensive version of health care reform down the throats of an unhappy American public.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs this week accused Republicans in Congress of "holding the middle class hostage" over the President's proposed extension of Bush-era tax cuts for middle class (while raising taxes on higher-income Americans.)
But both parties are holding all Americans hostage, in a sense, by allowing government spending (and the deficit) to rise to unprecedented levels. Both parties continue to increase social spending at a time when such spending is unaffordable. Both parties are contributing to the problems that make these times such scary times.
Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and writes this column for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail bonnieerbe@CompuServe.com.