Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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O'Donnell: Not a witch, but leading the cult of anti-elitism

O'Donnell: Not a witch, but leading the cult of anti-elitism

 

The Internet is all a-Twitter tonight: Christine O'Donnell has released her first TV ad in the Delaware Senate race -- and it's a doozy.

Unfortunately, there's no Elias Sports Bureau for politics, but I think we can safely say that this is the first 30-second campaign spot in U.S. history that begins with the phrase: "I'm not a witch."

Even though she appears to be wearing an outfit that's all black, mitigated by your basic Republican string of white  pearls.

It's the kind of edgy spot you'd expect from her new GOP insider adman Fred Davis, who did the 2008 "celebrity" commercial against Barack Obama and also one of the most talked about spots from 2010, that "demon sheep" ad for California Senate hopeful Carly Fiorina. People are going to fixate on the witchcraft line, but this is the real meat of the ad:

“None of us are perfect, but none of us can be happy with what we see all around us,. Politicians who think spending, trading favors and back-room deals are the ways to stay in office. I’ll go to Washington and do what you’d do.

"I'm you."

I've covered a lot of elections and they are funny things in that a lot of times we don't realize what we'll remember about them until it's all over. With the election just four weeks away, there's been a lot of focus on the rise of the Tea Party Movement (uh, yes, I've contributed) and I do think the anti-Obama backlash will remain quite memorable as a social movement.

But as we enter the home stretch, the political significance of 2010 may be two things that are going to overlap in some unusual ways -- a) the absolutely obscene amount of unfettered corporate money that's pouring in at the last possible minute and b) a mood among the rank-and-file voter that is similar to the Tea Party Movement but is going way beyond that now, to affect moderate swing voters and even some key elements of the liberal coalition, and that is an utter rejection not just of insiders but the broader class of elites -- know-it-alls, anyone who thinks that America's complicated problems require or deserve complicated solutions.

Fred Davis just handed Christine O'Donnell the line of 2010: not "I'm not a witch," but "I'll go to Washington and do what you'd do."

Really? What do you think most people would do if they went to Washington? Would "you" figure out how to get a lot of parties on board to extend health insurance to 32 million or so more Americans, or drafting a new energy policy to end our addiction to foreign oil. Or would "you" cut taxes, "drill baby drill" for more oil off Louisiana, and head home for summer break, having got the government "off the people's backs."

What do you think?

But the rise of anti-elitism as the most potent force in 2010 is also highly understandable. The social changes in America since World War II -- in which a college education is the only path for rising above our stagnant middle class and yet that opportunity is unaffordable for millions -- is part of a cauldron of inevitable social-class resentments that have been brewing for 50 years or more. The reason that cauldron (notice the witchcraft allusion!) is now boiling over is that the college-know-it-alls seem to have been running things for a while now, and yet we get a financial crisis nearly wiped out America and left us with 10 percent unemployment.

"You" could have done that, right?

Sept. 14, 2010, may be remembered as the turning point. Sure, it was the night that O'Donnell -- a 41-year-old with virtually no income or job in recent months, and with few ideas for public policy beyond repealing health care reform -- defeated Delaware stalwart Rep. Mike Castle, a former governor whose fate was sealed when he tried to launch a rational conversation on health care reform with a panel of doctors and nurses only to get shouted down about Obama's birth certificate, and when he voted for a "cap-and-trade" solution to climate change that wasn't probably what "you" would do in Washington.

But it wasn't just a bunch of angry white Tea Partiers that Tuesday. In fact, down in the capitol city itself, an electorate that is largely Democratic and African-American tossed out an incumbent mayor who -- even in the age of Obama -- may have been the ultimate egghead technocrat in Adrian Fenty. The Washington mayor's signature issue, through his hand-picked chancellor Michelle Rhee, had been education reforms of the kind praised by many experts (or "experts," to some) in eliminating tenure and shutting down failing urban schools, but the sweeping changes roiled parents as well as the teachers' union and contributed mightily to Fenty's primary defeat to a longtime councilman with working-class support.

In other words, a new Washington mayor who will "do what you'd do."

Look, as "know-it-alls" like Obama or Castle or Fenty love to start their sentences these days, the educated eggheads in our politics today deserve a lot of blame for their own predicament. By and large, they've done a terrible job in enlisting rank-and-file voters to understand or get behind their programs, thinking that citizens will simply trust them to fix things. But citizens got neither neither the trust nor the fix.

On the other hand, we shouldn't get fooled by O'Donnell and her attempt at reverse sorcery here. I'm reminded of a famous line from the back at the dawn of the age of resentment back in 1970 when a GOP senator named Roman Hruska argued for a lame Richard Nixon Supreme Court nominee by saying: "There are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers.  They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they?

Christine O'Donnell is arguing that she's "you" because she's had some economic hardships and false starts over the years. But for one thing, she betrayed our actually much more complicated attitude toward elitism and education in America when she put out the bogus claim that she attended Oxford, which of course would have made her more like "them" and less like "you."

But more importantly, the best formula for a U.S. senator is someone who faced the same struggles and hardships that a regular person like "you" did -- and learned to overcome them. But O'Donnell was misrepresenting her academic record and allegedly living off campaign money just in the last two years. That might be what "you" would do, too, but that lack of transcendence or emotional growth is not we need to look for among the 535 people who'll be crafting our laws for the next six years.

Still, "I'm you" is pitch perfect for this throw-the-eggheads-out election. It probably won't work for O'Donnell, not in the politically hen-blue state of Delaware, but it may work for a generation of pols from Nevada to Kentucky who will govern at least like they think that "you" would -- with very serious consequences for America for many, many years to come.

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Will Bunch
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