Friday, September 24, 2010

The Perfect Tea Party Candidate

Christine O’Donnell is the perfect Tea Party candidate. She is uncompromisingly committed to her evangelical ideology, she is oblivious to all scientific and historical knowledge that conflicts with her ideology, she believes it is her duty defend liberty by forcing others to conform to her superior values, and she flaunts her ignorance as if it is a virtue.

Consider her attempt to smear Obama over the media’s use of the word "czar" to describe the dozens of appointed advisors all presidents rely upon. She actually said, “Article 1, Section 9 says no title of nobility should granted by the United States, there you go. I would say to President Obama that czar is a title of nobility and therefore unconstitutional.”

To metaphorically challenged O’Donnell, “czar” could only refer to certain eastern European monarchs. Christine seems unaware that "czar” has been used in American politics and culture for over 180 years to refer to individuals with broad administrative powers. It can be used mockingly or affectionately. For example, calling the Commissioner of Baseball the “baseball czar” is affectionate. Calling him “Czar Selig” is mocking. It was often used in the press to describe presidential advisors in the 1930s and 1940s. It became popular again during the Nixon administration and has been widely used by pundits since then. Nixon himself used the word, although most presidents avoid it. To be fair, grandstanding over the use of the term is not limited to Republicans. In a complaint brought by Democrats against the Bush administration (which had 32 “czars”), the GAO ruled that use of the phrase “drug czar” in government publications “does not constitute unlawful self-aggrandizement.”

Ms. O’Donnell’s public statements about the use of this term demonstrate 3 things about her: she hates Obama, she doesn’t understand metaphors, and she is deeply ignorant of American law, politics, and cultural history.

Consider her abstinence only approach to sex education and sexual conduct. In 2002 on Donahue she said “Condoms will not protect you from AIDS.” In 2003 when asked if she would have teenagers stop having sex she said, “Yeah. Yeah…I'm a young woman in my thirties and I remain chaste. Come on. It's unrealistic to think they're just gonna do it anyway.” In 2006 on Fox she said “People aren't bad. When did humans become a bad thing? Why is it that we have to, you know, stop people from getting pregnant?” In 2007 she argued on Fox News against age appropriate comprehensive sex education and said it is up to the parents to decide what their children are taught.

She can believe anything she wants, and mocking her beliefs is unprofessional and a logical fallacy. But her beliefs would be a disaster as a basis for public policy. We have thousands of years of evidence, from virtually every culture, that abstinence doesn’t work for large portions of the population (95% in the US, including certain prominent religious Republicans). That is an undeniable fact of life. Today we can measure things like teen pregnancies and STD rates that show exactly how ineffective it is. In addition, we know exactly how effective condoms are in preventing the spread of AIDS. We know exactly how many abortions, unplanned pregnancies, and STDs can be prevented by comprehensive sex education. Of course, many conservatives think using actual measurements when debating public policy is mind trick of the intellectual elites, but public policy must be guided by facts, not myths, and must promote public health, not personal moral philosophy.

By insisting on abstinence only sex education O’Donnell puts her own sexual obsessions ahead of public health. O’Donnell wants to control people’s lives rather than empowering them to make their own choices, a common trait of the authoritarian conservative personality.

Consider her stance on abortion and the sanctity of life. She is against abortion even in cases of rape or incest. She has said “I pledge I will always vote in favor of life ..." Her campaign web site says she "Strongly believes in protecting the sanctity of life at ALL stages."

This is a difficult issue for many people. I have enormous respect for anyone who opposes abortion because they really do respect the "sanctity of life at ALL stages". Such a person is rare. Most people use this argument as an excuse to prevent other people from making their own choices, but are quick to abandon it when convenient. If you believe the sanctity of life overrides all other concerns then you must

  • Oppose the death penalty,

  • Reject unnecessary wars and military campaigns that slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians,

  • Support programs proven to reduce abortions, including compulsory comprehensive sex education and condom dispensers in all high schools and youth centers, and

  • Support universal health insurance rather than let nearly a thousand people a week die from lack of health care.

O’Donnell believes we should win in Iraq but can’t define what win means. She thinks we shold consider invading Iran. She has not, that I am aware, expressed any concern for the civilians we have killed. She supports only abstinence based sex education, and opposes dispensing condoms. She wants to repeal the “government provided” health care (actually she means the Affordable Care Act regulating private insurance) by removing all government restrictions on health insurers (so called free market reform), leaving even more Americans without health insurance.

On every one of those issues she rationalizes abandoning her pledge to “always vote in favor of life.” Like most authoritarian conservatives O’Donnell is incapable of recognizing the inherent contradictions of her positions.

Consider her absolute unwillingness to compromise. In 1998 when asked whether or not she would lie to Nazis who showed up at her door during WWII and demanded to know if she were hiding any Jewish people in her house. O’Donnell refused to even entertain the notion of concealing the truth from Nazis because “you never have to practice deception…A lie, whether it be a lie or an exaggeration, is disrespect to whoever you’re exaggerating or lying to, because it’s not respecting reality…I believe if I were in that situation, God would provide a way to do the right thing righteously. I believe that!”

This is a well known dilemma which has been debated for decades, without resolution, amongst ethicists who argue passionately for both sides. We cannot fault Ms O’Donnell for her choice for there is no “right” choice. Those siding with O’Donnell are generally absolutists who believe there is an inviolable commandment against lying and there is never any room for compromise on this point. That’s what’s relevant when evaluating Ms O’Donnell’s bid for public office. Logicians have proven that in any logical system which is internally consistent it is always possible to create unresolvable questions (or in this context, questions for which there is no right or wrong answer). Because our population consists of a multitude of different viewpoints, priorities, and philosophies interacting in complex ways, public policy is rarely a black and white situation. Without compromise government would come to a standstill and there would be no end to factional bickering.

Many conservatives, like Ms O’Donnell, reject compromise as weakness and believe the country will not survive if our laws do not conform to their religious beliefs.

Christine O’Donnell is the perfect Tea Party candidate: an ideologue who refuses to acknowledge facts that contradict her dogmatic beliefs, who values emotion over logic, who sees every thing in black and white, who is blind to her own contradictions and obsessions, who is incapable of compromise, who believes she has a sacred duty to dictate how others should live, and who hates Obama.

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