The Political Lessons of Christine O'Donnell's Surprise Win
The primary phase of midterm elections is usually considered to be a snooze-fest by journalists and politicos. But not this year. Aside from the attention that Sarah Palin has drawn for the Tea Party, Christine O'Donnell -- and her win in the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate seat in Delaware formerly held by Vice President Joe Biden -- has given us pundits more than enough to write about between now and November!
At the moment, the big question for dissection is this: How could a perennial wannabe candidate in a party (that's not really a party) beat out the respected (and moderate) GOP frontrunner, Congressman Mike Castle, in a race that wasn't even supposed to be close? And what, if any, are the larger lessons that the so-called political experts should be taking away from so many Tea Party victories, especially O'Donnell's?
Some analysts have dubbed 2010 the "Year of the Conservative Woman." While a good number of Republican women apparently were inspired to seek elective office after seeing Sarah Palin do it on the national stage with John McCain, it's a phenomenon that I believe speaks more to the longtime drought of GOP women in national elective office -- and the fact that Republican men did little to foster women candidates -- than it does about the Tea Party itself. Republicans have shut out women for too long in favor of its candidates from the school of "same old, same old," and that way of doing business is finally coming back to haunt them.
As for voters, we love whoever pays attention to us and who reflects back to us the frustrations we feel about our government and our country -- someone who feels our pain. Somehow, O'Donnell tapped into that as she spent time connecting with voters, offering people a message of change in a time when that's what they wanted to hear, whether it was a message that had substance or not. The downside to that is when we like the facade of something so much we often forget to check out the foundation.
I have real worries about where we're headed as a country when voters actually prefer someone who, as Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne said, " ... may be the least qualified Senate nominee anywhere in the country." Not to mention the fact that Delaware voters might want to give a little more thought to whether they want O'Donnell to be in charge of important decisions about their lives when it seems like she can't quite manage her own.
In light of all this, it seems that the post-O'Donnell political lessons, for those who want to hear them, are simple:
1. Never take anything for granted in politics.
2. Sometimes voters do get mad as hell and decide they're not going to take it anymore. Politicians are going to be on the losing end if they don't realize that.
3. If it's an outsider you want, then it's not the older establishment white guy who's going to win the day, no matter how much money gets thrown at a race. Both Republicans and Democrats should take that one to heart.
4. Voters are paying attention. If they feel like a candidate isn't paying attention to them, they'll find one who will.
5. And if the GOP really thinks a new book by Congressman and Republican Whip Eric Cantor and his white guy friends is an example of "new" conservative leadership, they're in bigger trouble than we thought.
It's really not all that complicated. But it saddens me that someone with as few qualifications as O'Donnell does is reaping the benefit of a time when people want real change. She may be a perfectly nice woman (notwithstanding her somewhat interesting thoughts on masturbation and fidelity), but we all know people who are much more qualified to be the change agents we need to see. We just have to convince them to run and to run for the big offices.
Joanne Bamberger writes the political blog, PunditMom. Her book, Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America, will be published this winter.
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