Christine O’Donnell and the women of ye olde middle earth

Much is being made of the personality and personal failings of Delaware GOP Senatorial candidate Christine O’Donnell, a woman who – on the face of it – is not likrly a terribly serious contender for that state’s senate seat. Then again, much of the media backlash against her – and much of what has colored my own perception of her – is little more than the political elite and the pundit class heaping scorn on someone they’ve successfully derided as nothing more than a clone copy of Sarah Palin – a neanderthal too clumsy and too extreme for the national stage.

Whether or not O’Donnell is a viable candidate, whether her political acumen is up to par, and whether she is indeed too extreme to seal the deal for Republicans in Delaware are all fair questions. These are questions that should be asked of any serious candidate. But the latest round of attacks against O’Donnell are over the top and extreme as well.

The recent surge of Tea Party candidates across the country may not represent the best and brightest the GOP has to offer, but then again, neither do many establishment figures on the right. Salon blogger, Glenn Greenwald, is correct when he writes that “much of the discomfort and disgust triggered by these Tea Party candidates has little to do with their ideology” but rather to “members of the establishment and the ruling class (like Rove), these are the kinds of people — who struggle with tuition bills and have their homes foreclosed — who belong in Walmarts, community colleges, low-paying jobs, and voting booths on command, not in the august United States Senate.”

In other words, the Tea Party is part of a larger class struggle consuming both the left and the right. Tea Parties around the country may not always field the most serious candidates or even the best suited candidates for a particular state or district, but perhaps the candidates of the status quo are no better to begin with. Mike Castle may be more suited to Delaware, but conservatives are correct to note that a Democrat in that seat may not in fact vote all the differently than Castle. More importantly, the Tea Party candidates represent a threat to the GOP elite. Joe the Plumber was supposed to be a mascot, a clever campaign device – anything but the actual candidate. Perhaps it’s dawning on political establishment figures like Karl Rove and Bill Kristol that the box they opened was in fact Pandora’s.

Furthermore, O’Donnell is hardly Sarah Palin.

Far from the floundering vice presidential candidate, searching desperately to answer the question of what publications she reads regularly – and finally, unfortunately, settling on “all of them” – O’Donnell appears to take both her faith and her reading seriously. An article she wrote for Catholic Exchange in 2003 looks at the question of gender in Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. “Perhaps Tolkien is showing us that all types of femininity are valid,” she writes in an extended discussion of Tolkien’s two primary female characters, Arwen and Eowyn. “Obliterating one in favor of the other is destructive to all. Each type of woman is crucial to the wellbeing of a healthy community.”

Perhaps O’Donnell should graft that sentiment onto the modern conservative movement. O’Donnell represents a new femininity within the ranks of conservatives that is off-putting to the political elites in both parties and the media.

She represents not only the suspected ranks of ‘ordinary Americans’ vying for a spot in the halls of the elite, but also a conservative feminist, whose religious convictions put her at odds with many in the media and within her own party. Palin, whose own brand of socially conservative feminism has been roundly criticized in the media, is the trailblazer of this movement, and indeed O’Donnell’s senate run would likely have been impossible before Palin’s ascendancy to the national stage. Certainly the coverage of Sarah Palin has colored the coverage of Christine O’Donnell as well and for similar reasons.

If we are to welcome diversity in politics, we will have to welcome Christine O’Donnell, even those of us who disagree with her politics. She may not be a very good candidate, she may have strange and even frightening views about the proper role of religion and the state; she may have harbored conspiracy theories in the past; and her campaign against masturbation may seem downright absurd to modern Americans, but why not let the voters decide that?

There have been bad candidates before her, and there will be many who follow. In the meantime, maybe O’Donnell will inspire more Americans like her to become involved in politics, to don their battle gear, defy all expectations, and, like Tolkien’s fiery heroin, Eowyn, go out to slay the Nazgul.

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