The recent controversy over U.S. Senate candidate Christine O’Donnell’s teenage dabbling with witchcraft illustrates the difficulty in getting good people to run for office.
Power Line and Patterico both proclaimed O’Donnell’s political career over as a result of the incident. If dabbling in the occult as a teenager is enough to permanently damage any potential political career, Republicans could find a shallow pool of potential future candidates. According to a 2006 Barna poll, 73% of teenagers were to one extent or another experimenting in the occult.
One could argue O’Donnell’s great offense was not the dabbling in witchcraft, but talking about it on national television. This is acceptable provided you only want political leaders who have successfully covered up all of their mistakes in preparation for a future run for political office and have lived a closed life full of dishonesty and half-truths.
Dealing with youthful indiscretions is hardly a new issue in politics. President George W. Bush made no effort to hide his rough youth, declaring, “When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible.” He chose not to go into grueling details, and this was fine with the American people even though, for eight years, leftist scandalmongers speculated about Bush’s drug and alcohol use. Unfortunately, twenty-first century technology could make this method obsolete.
Thanks to the rise of the Internet and social media, permanent records are creating of all kinds of things a sensible person would not want to exist anywhere, such as drunk pictures on Facebook, a blog post flirting with anarchism or the occult, a tweet celebrating a sexual conquest, or an online diary written during a dark period.
This information can be hidden from the casual searcher, but not highly paid opposition researchers. Potential candidates who care about their families and reputations may forgo running for office to avoid the disclosure of embarrassing details from their past, particularly if Christine O’Donnell’s high school years are lethal.
What we will be left with in politics are a few boy scouts and girl scouts, but mostly power-hungry career politicos who live a clean and boring life out of a desire to fulfill themselves by ruling others. Get ready for the era of the sociopathic narcissist.
In the era of personal destruction, conservatives are at greatest risk of finding themselves victims of a digital lynching. The media permits liberals to excuse their bad behavior as the result of institutional racism, the Bush administration, or poverty. The media, however, knows conservatives believe individuals remain morally responsible for their own actions. The media has taken this conservative belief and made it a license to go after conservatives for all their sins, both real and imagined.
The left has likewise decided that if a conservative adheres to any standard of morality he or she must be held liable in all points of moral behavior. Any breach of this perfection is the only sin the media recognizes — hypocrisy. On the other hand, leftist breaches of morality are treated with kid gloves (see the John Edwards story, or how the media made Bill Clinton a martyr during the Lewinsky affair).
Making things even worse for the right, conservative-leaning pundits are quick to join media lynch mobs. Some do this for an “attaboy” from their liberal counterparts or as part of inside-the-Beltway payback. Others act because they fear damage to the GOP brand, or that the breach in conduct will incite the angry mobs of the religious right.
The problem is that these media-appointed conservative mouthpieces don’t understand how Americans in flyover country think. In 2008, when news leaked out that Bristol Palin was pregnant out of wedlock, the punditocracy imagined a feverish religious right mob that would, at the very least, insist Bristol wear a scarlet “A” and might even turn on Sarah Palin. Instead, Palin remained popular with Christian conservatives, who, like most Americans, didn’t degrade Sarah Palin or her daughter over the pregnancy.
How did the pundits get it wrong? They didn’t understand the values of the people they were talking about. While conservative Christians believe in morality and accountability, at the core of Christianity is a belief in redemption and forgiveness, as illustrated through the work of groups like Prison Fellowship. For the rest of America, an out-of-wedlock pregnancy is an event nearly every family has dealt with. Neither America nor the religious conservative movement were about to throw stones.
Rather than relying on tired stereotypes of the American people as an unsophisticated mob, conservatives would do well to apply a common sense test to allegations. When confronted with a personal mistake by a political leader, we should ask two questions: “Does this mistake reflect who they are right now?” and “Have they learned from their mistake?” If the answers are satisfactory, conservative pundits should ignore the scandalmongers.
If conservatives can get out of the habit of shooting our own, we may yet avoid the day of the dullard sociopath.