20 September 2010
In Defense of Christine O'Donnell
The Republican nominee for Vice President Biden's old U.S. Senate seat for Delaware has been forced into damage-control mode after Bill Maher dug up a 1999 talk show from his archives in which the candidate, then an anti-sex activist, admitted to "dabbl[ing] into witchcraft" during her high-school years. Maher claims to have more embarrassing clips ready to run and has promised to broadcast more of them if O'Donnell doesn't agree to appear on his current program. O'Donnell has responded to the so-called scandal with good humor, tweeting that, were she a witch today, she would have turned Karl Rove (her most vocal critic on the Right) into a Newt (Gingrich, a supporter). But the revelation has exposed her to fresh criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike, the Republicans (those who voted against her in the primary, presumably) again questioning her credentials and credibility, and the Democrats presumably wanting to label her either a hypocrite (as if a conservative Christian should never have dabbled into witchcraft in her youth) or an idiot (as if witchcraft is a priori more idiotic than any other religious belief or practice). That this story can be a scandal reflects mainstream culture's continued hypocritical marginalization of wicca and related beliefs, though the younger O'Donnell didn't help matters by talking about "satanic" altars, however humorously. The O'Donnell of today is doubtless correct to challenge critics to deny that they ever hung out with "weird" friends in their youth, and as far as I'm concerned dabbling into witchcraft should no more disqualify a modern political candidate than a confession of pot smoking. Speaking entirely for myself regarding O'Donnell as a religious-right Tea Partier, her reminiscences of adolescent transgression, had she uttered them this year, would probably have been the least offensive things she's said as a candidate for office. Democrats probably think themselves beset by witches this year (and by the Wicked Witch of the North most of all) but they should refrain from making their witch hunts this literal.