O’Donnell’s Identity Politics Playbook

September 18th, 2010 at 12:26 pm | 21 Comments |

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I found watching a YouTube video of Christine O’Donnell at a recent town hall particularly painful. Not only for the fact that she could never seem to master that verb and subject agreement thingy but mostly for the message that she so excruciatingly tried to communicate.

What chiefly struck me was her phrase that we need people who will be “advocates for the constitution, advocates for the United States.” It’s rather telling that in defending conservative principles she was using the language that the left often uses to express support for special interest groups.  O’Donnell belongs to a growing part of the conservative movement that is unconsciously adopting the left’s identity politics.

In the old days when conservatives fought against what they called elitism they meant the tendency of modern liberalism to dictate the minutiae of daily life. Exceptional minds of the right, from Hayek and Friedman to Charles Murray, developed a serious political literature expatiating on the inability of big government to solve many if not most societal problems.

For the new idiotic right it appears that policy differences are merely the excuse for something that goes a lot deeper. The new war on elitism is not so much about policy but about identity. The elitism they oppose is not a set of policy proposals; the new elitism has a face and often a name. A relatively old Club for Growth political commercial was pointing to the latte drinking, Volvo driving and New York Times reading constituency of Howard Dean. You see, it’s not the policy anymore – it’s the people. The real America versus the coastal elites and their groupies as  Sarah Palin would most likely term it.

The new idiotic right has managed to insert resentment and envy into the conservative movement; A kind of class warfare without the ransom note. We need average people in Congress says Christine O’Donnell. Do we? Who of us would consider Washington or any of the founding fathers average? Who of us would even consider present day political figures like Mitch Daniels and Chris Christie average?

I want my government limited but in no way would I like its managers to be average at all.

Viewing again that O’Donnell video one thing comes to mind, something that Noel Coward said: Never mind, dear, we’re all made the same, though some more than others.

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21 Comments so far ↓

  • Watusie

    O’Donnell has just reached a new low in campaigning history – she is even afraid to go on FOX!


    Is that the rock bottom?

  • SkepticalIdealist

    Welcome to 1969. The backlash against liberals has existed ever since Nixon spoke of the silent majority. The thesis of this article is essentially Thomas Frank’s “What’s the Matter with Kansas” from a conservative perspective. I like the term Napoleon uses, “the idiotic right,” because they are very much being played for fools and are often appealed to in a lowest-common-denominator type of way (e.g. the recent Dinesh D’Souza article).

    The genius of this kind of identity politics is that it allows corrupt business entities and power-hungry special interests groups completely off the hook. “Don’t go after the economic elite,” candidates like O’Donnell cry, “Go after the know-it-all college professors, the godless scientists, and all the people who think they know better than you just because they’ve spent the better part of a decade conducting research and obtaining a high quality education. Go after the cultural elite, and don’t mind us economic elites, we’ll be right over there raiding the treasury, laying off workers to pad our bonus checks, and implementing lavish severance packages so we become millionaires when our companies implode and leave a giant, gaping crater in the economy”

    The most amazing thing the conservative impulse has ever done is take the class animus middle class people used to feel towards the rich and redirect it towards the poor and other middle class people. To me, it’s all a very simple equation: Conservatives like O’Donnell stroke the ego of zealots and the self-righteous by telling them, “Yes, the world is only 6 thousand years old. You’re right, gays are evil and should be oppressed. Evolution is a lie from the devil.” This gives the idiotic right the validation they crave, and never receive from the liberals who insist on trying to improve their knowledge instead of simply reinforcing their prejudices. They, in turn, give candidates on O’Donnell their trust and adopt their policies on non-culture war issues. After all, if O’Donnell is right about gays, why wouldn’t she be right about the economy and foreign policy?

    Liberals may come off as snobby, effete, or whatever irrelevant pejorative you want to call them, but I’d actually say they have more respect for conservatives than many conservative politicians do. At least a guy like Bill Maher will come right out and say that he thinks you’re an idiot, instead of resorting to flattery and emotional manipulation to get what he wants. This is the lesson the idiotic right has to learn, and it’s as old as Shakespeare’s King Lear: Beware the flatterers, and realize that those who truly love you may not be the most effective at presenting their love.

  • jeffpeterson

    The clip above is the extent of what I’ve seen of Ms. O’Donnell on the stump, and I can’t see what’s to complain about. She opposes Obama’s expansion of non-defense spending and his cancellation of missile defense and in that context says her votes will be pro-American and pro-Constitution. Her reference to “average” Americans had to do with their social location, not their abilities — “people affected by the laws Congress passes,” or the like. (Oh, and I counted precisely one example of subject-verb disagreement, in a sentence which expanded parenthetically on a mention of the President to include his administration — not at all unusual in spoken English, and I’m confident you could find examples from the President’s press conferences.) I can’t say I’m excited about her candidacy, but if this is the best you can do to stir up outrage among intellectual conservatives, this Princeton and Yale grad thinks you should find another issue. (Note to Watusie: what O’Donnell needs to do right now is define her opponent, and I could well see keeping her off the airwaves for a bit; a similar strategy seems to be working okay for Sharon Angle.)

  • Watusie

    Note to jeffpeterson – turning tail and running away is a fear response, not a strategy. And you are the first person I have ever seen suggest that someone should model themselves on Sharron Angle.

  • armstp

    If you didn’t catch Bill Maher last night, he had a really funny, horrifyingly funny, clip from one of his old shows of O’Donnell.

    From the transcript:


    “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 little picnic on a satanic altar. ”

    This woman is a complete nutcase. She is not fit to be dog catcher. Maybe should could be on a comedy talkshow throwing out her crazy ideas so everyone can laugh at her, but coming up with real ideas to fix the economy or dealing with terrorism or balancing the budget? Come on!

    See the video here:


  • PracticalGirl

    Apropos to this article, and something I think applies to Palin et al as well:

    “The organizer knows that the real action is in the reaction of the opposition. To realistically appraise and anticipate the probable reactions of the enemy, he must be able to identify with them, too, in his imagination, and foresee their reactions to his actions….

    “…the organizer must be able to split himself into two parts — one part in the arena of action where he polarizes the issue to 100 to nothing, and helps to lead his forces into conflict, while the other part knows that when the time comes for negotiations that it really is only a 10 percent difference.”
    ———–Saul Alinsky

  • Oldskool

    The right has been making an emotional appeal since at least 1980. Everything has had the feel of a firey tent revival. Yesterday I watched someone named Dale Peterson of Alabama at the Value Voters Summit. He lost a race for something or another in his state but still, his cornball, countrified shtick seemed to be a nice fit for that kind of conference. He didn’t get big laughs or much applause but the fact that his brand of ignorance was welcomed there speaks volumes.

  • Nanotek

    and this is the best and the brightest of the politically correct conservatives? LOL

    O’Donnell … “I dabbled in witchcraft”

    A Witch Hunt at Sarah Palin’s church

    Palin Advises Christine O’Donnell To ‘Speak Through Fox News’

  • mickster99

    What a tease. Napolean sez: “I want my government limited”.

    And all I want to know is limited in what ways? No more FDA, FCC, SEC, EPA, IRS. End support for disabled americans (like me) to have access to the world outside our homes.

    Abolish the US Army, end all of our foreign military bases, support for families in poverty, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Veterans Administration benefits/programs.

    Abolish the modern surveillance state, get government out of peoples lives by allowing women to make their own choices about pregnancy, let people get married regards less of gender.

    Come on let’s hear some specifics about what limited government means to the modern rightwinger. I’m weary of the sounds bites. Don’t be afraid. This is your web site. Your preaching to the choir. Let’s hear it?

  • easton

    oh God, that video was terrible. So many lies, so many distortions. Obama has increased defense spending in the place that most matters, in Afghanistan. He canceled useless and ineffective missile defense spending in Poland and the Czech Republican (which polls in both countries completely support). Iran is not going to bomb Poland, and due to the location of the Kaliningrad Oblast missile defense is utterly useless against Russia (and if Russia were to lob missiles at Poland, missile defense would be the least of our problems as WW3 would then commence)

    Ah well, sometime after November she will be indicted for campaign funds misappropriation. Her winning the nomination was probably the worst thing that could have ever happened for her and she doesn’t even know it.

  • anniemargret

    mickster99: “Come on let’s hear some specifics about what limited government means to the modern rightwinger. I’m weary of the sounds bites.”

    Boy, I’m with you. I’m sick of the sound bites.

    Can Palin say anything other than sound bites – she’s chock full. And when the T.P. says they want ‘smaller government’ they never quite delineate exactly what that means, do they? Some of the social hot button issues would actually put the federal government into everyone’s personal life, so how’s that ‘conservative?’ And if they support the neocons in their quest for a Pax Americana in the Middle East, then that is not ‘conservatism’ either – we have spent over $900 billion! And the other $9 billion was ‘lost.’ How do they plan to pay for their future wars?

    Do they support this, and if so, why? Do they believe we should be bombing potential missile sites in Iran? If so, why? Do they believe Bush’s tax cuts worked…if so,why or why not?

    Has anyone heard these people say anything of substance? Instead they tweet and remotely insult on Facebook and then get Fox News to ‘interview’ them with useless softball questions. It’s all a farce – perpetrated on the American people. Of course some of us don’t buy the hooey-schtick.

    easton: “Her winning the nomination was probably the worst thing that could have ever happened for her and she doesn’t even know it.”

    And it won’t be the signature clarion call for the Republican party either!

  • sdspringy

    Democrats are losing elections all over the nation, HA HA, and now O’Donnell stands almost even money to do the same thing in DE. WHY??
    You libs never ask that question, why don’t they like us. You certainly asked that when religious fundamentalists bombed the WTC. But not when you are getting BLOWN out of office, laugh out loud funny.

    Some specifics: Remove HCR, every legislative line
    Prevent Cap & Trade legislation in any form
    Reform the so called Finanical Reform Legislation, Maybe it should affect
    Reform government entitlements,SS/Medicare
    End unemployment extension that last 99 weeks, almost 2 yrs, whatever.

  • anniemargret

    watusie: for her campaign song the Eagles’ “Witchy Woman” kinda has a nice beat. Sorta fits too since she has a hx of ‘dabbling.’

  • SFTor1

    sdspringy is a joker—a joker with a religion named laissez-faire capitalism.

    I’ll take the bait on HCR:

    The U.S. is grossly overspending on health care and still doesn’t get the health outcomes it needs as a nation. We are spending $7,500 per head, Finland is spending $2,500 per head on a public system and getting better results. We’re down there with Slovenia.

    A healthy nation is an economic and strategic asset. As of now that U.S. asset is greatly diminished. HCR is not the whole answer, but it is a beginning.

  • ktward

    Democrats are losing elections all over the nation …

    FF’s packin’ some seriously sophisticated code! Evidently we just time-warped straight to Nov. 3rd. (Damn. Did I remember to vote yesterday?)

  • ktward

    [A]nd now O’Donnell stands almost even money to do the same thing in DE.

    I’m not sure what ‘the same thing’ is in reference to, but I’ve seen no evidence that O’Donnell will offer a close race. Not anywhere.

    I have, however, seen evidence that Coons is going to bury O’Donnell:

    [P]oll numbers from Public Policy Polling (D), conducted over the weekend before yesterday’s Delaware primary, provides yet further evidence that Christine O’Donnell’s nomination for Senate has probably blown the opportunity for Republicans to pick up this seat.

    The poll shows the Democratic nominee, New Castle County Executive Chris Coons, leading O’Donnell by a whopping 50%-34%. Had the GOP nomination gone to the establishment favorite, Congressman Mike Castle, he would have led Coons by 45%-35%. The survey of likely voters has a ±3.2% margin of error. In the previous PPP survey from a month ago, Coons led O’Donnell by 44%-37%, and Castle led Coons by 48%-35%.

    “A small group of Delaware Republicans most likely cost their party this seat and any chance at gaining control of the Senate last night,” writes PPP president Dean Debnam. “What has looked like an easy Republican win the entire cycle now looks like an easy one for the Democrats.”

  • sdspringy

    SFT, your concern of “grossly overspending on health care” is not corrected by HCR. HCR in no way addresses the “COST”, except that it actually increases it.

    HCR increases government involvement in personal healthcare decisions, and raises taxes. No cost containment, if it is a first step, it’s in the wrong direction.

    HCR does not improve our businesses competitive advantage thus we will lose more jobs overseas.

    279 Democrats voted for HCR, absolutely none are running for reelection on that fact. They instead hold seminars on methods of avoidance concerning that very topic. Wonderful testament to the effectiveness of the legislation

  • armstp


    Your are wrong. There are many things in the healthcare bill that will bend the costs curve over the long-run, although clearly more needs to be done. HCR is just the beginning, which in itself is important.

    “HCR does not improve our businesses competitive advantage thus we will lose more jobs overseas.”

    Not sure if you are saying in this statement that HCR will hurt jobs and economy, but that does not seem to be the case. During the whole HCR debate and the final passage of the bill, the stock market went no where but up, so investors did not seem to be particularly worried.

  • Nanotek

    “Prevent Cap & Trade legislation in any form”

    polluting our common air and water with toxic production waste — rather than paying for its safe disposal — is one form of conservative socialism … socializing production costs while privatizing profits mocks free market principles and is free-loading … talk about a sense of entitlement, polluters have it like none others

  • Carney

    Although this article and thread is, at least on the surface level, about class rather than race, when I hear condemnations of “identity politics” on the Right, I think of the classic Steve Sailer quote:

    “If you don’t want whites to act like a minority group – e.g. racially-conscious, bloc-voting, biased, prickly, led by racial racketeers constantly proclaiming their group’s victimization – then the government should stop making whites a minority through mass immigration.”

  • Slide

    Wingnut world:

    sdspringy // Sep 18, 2010 at 10:32 pm “Democrats are losing elections all over the nation, HA HA, and now O’Donnell stands almost even money to do the same thing in DE. WHY?? You libs never ask that question, why don’t they like us.

    the Real world:

    Even more interesting, I think, is the fact that Democrats extended their streak in House special elections by holding on to the Pennsylvania 12th, John Murtha’s old seat. That makes ten straight special elections to fill House seats in which Democrats have either retained or stolen a seat. You have to go back to May 2008, when Steve Scalise replaced Bobby Jindal, to find a Republican victory.

    In an Associated Press poll released last week, 38 percent of respondents approved of the job Democrats in Congress are doing, while 60 percent disapproved – not exactly where any party wants to be this close to an election. The ratings for Republicans in Congress, however, were even worse, with 31 percent approving and 68 percent disapproving. A New York Times/CBS News survey released last week also showed congressional Democrats’ approval rating at a measly 30 percent, while congressional Republicans’ sat at a ghastly 20 percent.

    And in a Washington Post-ABC News poll released this month, voters expressed a distinct desire not to reelect incumbents in either party. Just 34 percent said Democrats deserved reelection, while 31 percent said Republicans did

    As expected, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Chris Coons has a sizable lead over Republican Christine O’Donnell. Coons leads 53% to 42% over O’Donnell. The poll of 500 likely Delaware voters was done on Wednesday