Is Christine O'Donnell a Nut?
One of Moynihan's claims is that "O’Donnell lied about attending a Master’s degree program at Princeton University." That's a strong claim; the only support is a link to an article critical of O'Donnell by John McCormack in the Weekly Standard. He bases it on her claims in a lawsuit against her previous employer, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, a conservative group. To his credit, he provides a link to the claims. I read it, partly out of curiosity about O'Donnell, partly because I had connections with ISI long ago, in its earlier incarnation as a libertarian organization called the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists.
As best I can tell, nowhere in her claims does she say that she attended a Master's degree program at Princeton. By her account, when ISI originally offered her a position in February of 2003, one of her reservations was that she had applied to Princeton's Master's degree program for the following fall. ISI assured her that she would be given enough time, up to one day a week, to attend classes—presumably she was applying to a part-time program—but then reneged on that agreement, with the result that she was forced to withdraw. A careless reader might take that as meaning that she took classes for a while and then had to cancel. But given that her employment started in March and she was planning to start taking classes the following fall, it looks more as though she applied, was accepted, but then withdrew when she discovered that she wasn't being given the necessary free time. She says that she got a full refund of her tuition, which would be a little surprising if she had actually attended classes for a while before withdrawing.
Getting curious, I followed up on some of the other evidence offered that she was a nut. One repeated claim was that she was, in Moynihan's words, "opposed to the sinister habit of masturbation," which makes it sound as though she had been campaigning against it. Another story describes her as the "masturbation hating candidate" and links to another informing us that "One of the most notable things on her political résumé is her well-publicized position against masturbation."
All of this seems, as far as I can tell, to be based on a single comment made in the course of an MTV program on sex in the nineties. O'Donnell asserted that the bible says that lust in your heart is to commit adultery, and that you cannot masturbate without lust—both, I think, correct statements. As best I can tell, that is the sole basis for the claims of "well publicized position" and "masturbation hating candidate."
I don't take the bible as a source of truth, but quite a lot of people do, and the fact that O'Donnell does, or at least did at one time, isn't evidence that she is a nut.
Another charge is that "she suggested that age-appropriate sex education, even for kindergarteners, could convince children that strangers with candy were "not so creepy." Following the link kindly provided by the Huffington Post, one finds a reasonable enough argument—that if small children are accustomed to discussing intimate matters with their teacher, they will be less likely to be frightened by a similar conversation from another adult. I'm not sure she is right, but the appearance of crazy views is coming from the way the view is described by her critic, not from what she actually said.
Reading O'Donnell's charges against ISI, I was struck by a point that none of the stories seems to have noticed. While she objects to quite a lot of things about their treatment of her, the central complaint is that they are, or at least wish to appear to be, Christian fundamentalists who believe that women ought always to be under the authority of men. She got fired, by her account, when she objected to being made the subordinate of a recent (male) hire who had been brought in as her assistant—a change made to make sure that she was under the "cover" of a male during a period when the vice-president she reported to was going to be absent.
Running through much of the criticism of O'Donnell is the implications that she is committed to fundamentalist Christianity. It is surely at least worth mentioning that a large part of the reason she sued her employer was, by her own account, the fact that they were.
Finally, it's worth noting that a good deal of the material used to make O'Donnell look nutty is coming from her activities in the nineties, when she was a twenty-something crusading for sexual purity. It would be interesting to see a similar selection for left of center candidates.
O'Donnell may really be a nut, of course. Sarah Palin was badly misrepresented by her critics during the campaign, but even without the misrepresentation her actual views do seem a bit odd.
Part of what first got me interested in O'Donnell was the dual issue she appears to raise for not only Tea Party supporters but libertarians as well—and, for that matter, for some on the left. The first half of the issue currently appears as the argument that the Tea Party is the best thing that could have happened to the Democratic party, since it is forcing on the Republicans candidates whose views are too far from the center to win—what my wife, remembering an earlier example, refers to as the McGovern effect.
The other half is the nature of the candidates. Tea Party candidates, or LP candidates, or Socialist candidates for that matter, are unlikely to have a background as high level elected officials or much experience in electoral politics. Their willingness to run in what everyone else sees as a hopeless cause may reflect either a wildly unrealistic view of the world—I still remember the people who, back in 1964, thought Goldwater would be elected by the "silent majority"—or blind fanaticism. They are, in other words, quite likely to be nuts. Which might create difficulties for electing them, and further difficulties if they do get elected.
Following up the charges against O'Donnell, I am struck by the other side of that story. Almost anybody can be made to look nutty by a suitable selection of past comments—consider that the current Vice President is a man who apparently believes that FDR was President at the time of the stock market crash and went on national TV to reassure people. Given a press sufficiently hostile to one candidate and friendly to another, it isn't that hard to create the illusion that the outsiders are all nut cases, their opponents all reasonable folk.