Saturday, September 18, 2010

Season of the witch

“I dabbled into witchcraft,” said Christine O’Donnell, the Delaware GOP Senate hopeful and Tea Party savior-in-waiting, back in October 1999. “I never joined a coven. But I did, I did. ... I dabbled into witchcraft. I hung around people who were doing these things. I’m not making this stuff up. I know what they told me they do. One of my first dates with a witch was on a satanic altar and I didn't know it. I mean, there was a little blood there and stuff like that. We went to a movie and then had a midnight picnic on a satanic altar.”

With that admission, right out of the gate, the apparently media-savvy O’Donnell has been hoist on the petard of her own history on television. With that admission (tied to other strangely idiosyncratic stances on personal affairs), O’Donnell loses any leverage on the perception of American traditionalism, and conveys unto her Democratic rival (and to the Democrats generally) a semiotically viral weapon, a symbolic bludgeon to be used with glee from now unto Election Day. Is it possible? Can the wheels really have fallen off the O’Donnell Express before it even backed out of the driveway?

Think Progress, followed shortly by The Huffington Post, reported on the revelation, made Friday night on Bill Maher's HBO show "Real Time.” O’Donnell made the comments on Maher’s previous show, "Politically Incorrect" in a previously-unaired clip from Oct. 29, 1999.

Think Progress reported that O'Donnell made 22 "Politically Incorrect" appearances and that Maher, knowing a great thing when he sees it, said he plans to release a new O’Donnell clip from the program every week until she agrees to make a “Real Time” appearance. "It's like a hostage crisis," he told the Web site.

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There’s so many questions about this that jump at you, it’s hard to know where to start. Mostly, they have to do with reactions.

What’s this news do to the Tea Party’s animating nativist narrative? The supremacy of Christianity as the Tea Party’s guiding spiritual principle is implicit in the movement’s ethos (consistent with the party that spawned it). To see that’s true, you only have to look at the birthers and Muslim-haters in the Tea Party rank and file that the Tea Party leadership doesn’t want to talk about.

Now, in a moment of great triumph, the Tea Party Republicans are faced with their worst nightmare: a candidate for Senate once a heathen! An admitted heathen! A one-time trafficker in the occult — the Dark Arts! Not even Michael Deaver could save a candidate from this.

What’s this do to the relationship between the Tea Party and the Republicans that birthed them? You can’t really disown your own flesh and blood, and that’s the problem for the broader GOP. Some conservatives have proposed, with straight faces, that the Tea Party represents the rising tide of a wide cross-section of the American people.

With O’Donnell as part of the movement’s big national coming-out party, there’s suddenly a lot to suggest that isn’t true. For all the issues between Christians, Jews and Muslims in America, at least the God they worship isn’t the god of the underworld. O’Donnell’s admission, no matter how historically it might be spun by her advisers and handlers, adds fuel to perceptions of an exoticism about the candidate that aren’t easily ignored, and won’t be forgotten at all.

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And will Prince of Darkness and turdblossom generalissimo Karl Rove pivot back to his original position on O’Donnell the night she won the GOP Republican primary — when he said her background, inclination for character assassination, and “a lot of nutty things” from her past, called her qualifications into question?

That was Tuesday. By Wednesday, though, after Rove was no doubt warned by party poobahs and the Sarah Limbeck axis that Leadership spank, Turdblossom I had decided that O’Donnell wasn’t so unpalatable after all. Can’t wait to see what this new wrinkle, exquisitely timed to the slower weekend news cycle, does to Rove’s neck, torso and reputation when he hits the air again.

The idea that this throws a wrench in the O’Donnell works apparently isn’t just idle speculation. It’s all hands on deck this weekend at Camp O’D.: The Washington Post reported that, per CBS’s Bob Schieffer, O’Donnell has pulled out of a planned appearance on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” Think Progress shortly after that reported that O’Donnell had also cancelled a Sunday appearance on Fox News. O’Donnell apparently relayed this via e-mail to the Associated Press.

Thanks to the evolution of stop-action motion picture and video technology, it’s possible to observe a train wreck in slow motion: the first moment of a moment when a locomotive begins to grind against the track, to wrench itself out of alignment, to start the cascade of interrupted velocity we call going off the rails.

Much the same is observable in a political context. We may be watching that happen to the O’Donnell 2010 campaign right now.

Image credits: O'Donnell: Associated Press. "Politically Correct" title card: ABC.

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