Christine M. Flowers: Christine O'Donnell, The Little Candidate Who Could in Delaware
AT FIRST, they didn't see it coming, this runaway train hurtling down the tracks. They were too busy checking the November schedules and patting themselves on the back about how easy it was going to be to crush that presumptuous Democratic opponent. If you even asked them about the cute-as-a-button tea- party challenger, they'd snort and say that no thinking Delawarean would elect a Sarah Palin mini-me in a state where being pro-choice and antigun was de rigueur.
AT FIRST, they didn't
see it coming, this runaway train hurtling down the tracks.
They were too busy checking the November schedules and patting themselves on the back about how easy it was going to be to crush that presumptuous Democratic opponent. If you even asked them about the cute-as-a-button tea- party challenger, they'd snort and say that no thinking Delawarean would elect a Sarah Palin mini-me in a state where being pro-choice and antigun was de rigueur.
Then, they heard some distant rumblings out of Nevada and Alaska, but still they didn't worry. They checked their Rolexes, got another glass of single-malt, and yawned.
And by the time they realized what was happening and started to sling mud at the train in hopes it could be stopped, it was too late. They got crushed.
Establishment Republicans in Delaware never believed that a Donna Quixote-ish Christian conservative with a messy financial past and uncool views on chastity and masturbation could unseat their beloved Congressman-for-Life Mike Castle. And when it became clear that she might, they unleashed the dogs of hell, to the point of launching a Web site called TheRealChristine.com, which was more National Enquirer than political issues.
Arrogance breeds desperation.
IT WAS THE same sort of arrogance that propelled our very own Sen. Arlen Specter out of the GOP and into the less-than-enthusiastic arms of the Democrats - that clingy sense of entitlement to power and prestige.
Well, they finally learned that you ignore storm warnings at your own peril. They realized, too late, that when you listen only to the "official" voices in your party, you end up missing important signals of an ominous realignment in the body politic. Which can leave other kinds of bodies mangled on the rails.
There certainly was a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth Tuesday night as it became obvious that Christine O'Donnell was going to beat Mike Castle.
Bush political guru Karl Rove called her "nutty." The Weekly Standard's Bill Kristol, a usually reliable tea-party ally, said she was "no Sarah Palin," forgetting that his heroine had endorsed O'Donnell.
Bigwigs in the national GOP first said they were going to treat Delaware as a lost cause and take their money elsewhere before backtracking and sending her campaign the princely sum of $42,000. And Democrats, proving that pride goeth before this fall, started smiling at what they presume to be their guaranteed win in the general election.
All because of a few thousand votes, which was O'Donnell's margin of victory. But those votes tell a much bigger story, one that's been playing out over the past months as rank-and-file Americans are telling anyone who'll listen that they've having a collective Peter Finch moment, mad as hell and not going to take it anymore.
And what exactly is "it"? At the most elemental level, it's a sense that the pols aren't listening, don't know what it means to lose a job or not be able to pay your mortgage - and have consistently voted for catastrophic legislation that will bankrupt the future. "It" means treating the average citizen as a dolt.
Christine O'Donnell is far from the ideal candidate for a moderate-to-liberal state. She has no legislative experience, a troubled financial history and some ultraconservative social views.
But if we're going to demand experience from our candidates, we should stop applauding when the widows of politicians (like Carnahan in Missouri, Boggs in Louisiana, Bono in California) and - if the Dems had had their way - Vicki Kennedy in Massachusetts ride their dead hubbies' coattails into Washington.
And if not paying your bills or your taxes disqualifies you from public jobs, we should round up the Rangels and Geithners and strip them of their credentials.
And if having unorthodox views about sexual matters renders you unfit for public service, I know a president who really dodged a bullet on that one.
I don't know if O'Donnell deserves to win in November. Her also-low-profile Democratic opponent is probably more in line with the ethos of Delawareans who are essentially just a tad lighter blue than New Jerseyites. (Maybe we should ask Jon Corzine about that.)
But the fact that a veteran like Castle with the backing of so many GOP establishment types and decades of public service could be beaten by a woman who only a few years ago was hanging out on MTV says much more about him than his opponent.
A sleeping tiger has awakened. And, apparently, it just had a venerable Blue Hen for dinner. Let's hope the GOP is ready for the next course.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer. See her on Channel 6's "Inside Story" Sunday at 11:30 a.m. E-mail email@example.com.