Friday, September 24, 2010

No Cheering from the Press Box

My good friends and valued colleagues at Dan Cleary's blog and comment section took umbrage earlier this week over the NARN First Team's treatment of Christine O'Donnell last Saturday.

With Friends Like John Hinderaker and Brian Ward, Christine O'Donnell Doesn't Need Enemies

Listen to the 14:20 - 41:40 segment of Saturday's First Team Hour 1 of the Northern Alliance Radio Network, as Powerline's John Hinderaker, and my Twitter buddy and Fraters Libertas blogger Brian Ward utterly trash the GOP nominee for U.S. Senate in Delaware, Christine O'Donnell.

Keep reminding yourself that these guys say they want O'Donnell to win.

Really? That's not what it sounds like to me.

Not when they spend nearly 30 minutes casting aspersions on her character, qualifications, and personal financial struggles - while barely mentioning her opponent a.k.a. Harry Reid's 'pet' a.k.a. 'The Bearded Marxist' a.k.a. Chris Coons.

Castle lost, boys. Get over it. My suggestion would be to get behind Christine O'Donnell (donate here) and stop undermining her campaign with nothingburgers from 11 years ago or whatever else Bill Maher says he has up his sleeve.

That's what we have Keith Olbermann for.

Despite my rock-ribbed bona fides, I don't mind being criticized as being insufficiently conservative. If I ever run for high office and get introduced at a debate by Rick Kupchella as "having no one on your right, you're the extreme right of the right!" (as he did to Tom Emmer last week), I can refute him by pointing to Dan Cleary and his ideological ilk (Augusto Pinochet, Genghis Kahn, Jabba the Hut, etc.).

While I appreciate the cover he's providing me, I must object to the assumption behind this criticism. That I have some obligation to be a friend of O'Donnell or to get behind her campaign. While that may be true for a party activist or operative, that is not the case for a guy on a radio show . Especially a radio show with lousy ratings and limited signal reach. I'm not trying to influence election outcomes or do public relations for anything the party (Republican or Tea) decides to do. I have the benefit of getting to be honest about these issues and to call them as I see them. In lieu of getting actual benefits for radio commentary (or pay or bathroom privileges), it's all I got and I'm holding on to my editorial independence like grim death.

So, substantively, what's my problem with Christine O'Donnell? In two words, Al Franken. Or Jesse Ventura. Or Maxine Watters. Or Cynthia McKinney. Or many others who I have spent too many nights watching on CSPAN presiding over important hearings or committee meetings or press conferences, when in normal circumstances they wouldn't be trusted to responsibly order the post-session catering.

Yes, I know they are citizen-statesmen and the only qualifications for office are age and citizenship status and the people voted them in. All true, that's democracy for ya!

However, it is sobering to consider that, despite the whims of a plurality of the voters, on qualifications alone these individuals wouldn't be considered for a senior staff position for a high government official. They wouldn't be qualified to hold any of the positions which they are asked to confirm (judges, cabinet members, military leaders, executive bureaucrats). They wouldn't be qualified to work in important positions for the industries and government departments for which they will sit on oversight committees. They will be faced with issues of war, national security, macroeconomics, the disposition of trillions of dollars in funding, and they have no demonstrated record of being capable of dealing with any of it. But they talk a good game.

Unfortunately there are a lot of elected officials in powerful positions who fall into this category. But that isn't a reason to unreservedly cheerlead for another one, like Christine O'Donnell. For a US Senator, with all the power and responsibility that goes with it, I want something better than what she brings to the table. A career as an issue advocacy professional and wanna-be kid TV pundit, as John Podhoretz put it in his insightful analysis at Commentary Magazine. He identifies another problem as well, her potential to do damage to the causes which attract her ardent supporters:

She was of particular value because she was young, pretty, and a raging extremist of the right. And, clearly, she was thrilled to be on TV. That's why Bill Maher had her on his show Politically Incorrect so often, both on Comedy Central and when it migrated to ABC (as a late-night competitor to cable news). She could hold down the conservative chair and, to be blunt, say embarrassing, stupid, and excessive things that would discredit the very cause she was supposed to be there to represent.

But there would be no Christine O'Donnell without the mainstream media, and it will be to their precincts she will in all likelihood decamp in the wake of her sudden fame, turning the ideas she claims to embody into a dismissible caricature, just as she did in her youth. The same, by the way, will be true if she wins; she will be the first new senator liberal reporters turn to for a quote on something controversial, in hopes that she will step in it. The problem is not the ideas, or the Tea Party. The problem is O'Donnell and her path to the spotlight.

My criticisms last week were similar, if not as articulately summarized. She emerged from a noble movement, but she's a lousy candidate. Paraphrasing my political hero Michael Dukakis (jokes!), I don’t question her ideology, I question her competence. But is that a truth that cannot be said? If I think her background doesn't qualify her to be an effective member of the US Senate, what is the approved speech code?

Now, to complicate matters and introduce liberal amounts of moral ambiguity into the conversation, that doesn't mean I wouldn't vote for her!

Elections are a choice, not a referendum. Is an unqualified conservative community organizer superior to a self-described bearded Marxist who'll gleefully endorse 100% of the Obama/Reid/Pelosi agenda. One hell of a choice you gave us there Delaware primary voters. But the answer is obviously 'yes'.

Was an unqualified conservative community organizer superior to a moderate Republican who happened to have been elected to statewide offices repeatedly, including twice as Governor and who still enjoys large public support within the state? Well, perhaps. Contemplating Castle's eager participation in the dynamics that have led this country to the brink of financial disaster, it would have been hard to pull the lever for him. Honestly, I don't know who I'd vote for if Castle and O'Donnell were my only choices. I just know I'd be holding my nose with one hand.

In summary, there is a difference between saying O'Donnell may be the preferred option in a narrow field of election choices and that she is a great candidate to whom criticisms can not be applied and who we must all get behind. It's the difference between being an honest observer and a cheerleader. And I no longer have the legs for the latter.