Today, most of the political blogosphere is going to be reeling from the massive wins for wingnuts during last night’s primary. The two biggies that are going to be stunners are Christine O’Donnell winning in Delaware for the Senate Republican nomination and Carl Paladino in New York for the gubernatorial Republican nomination. Both aren’t just wacky, but they’re cinematically wacky. O’Donnell went on MTV in the 90s, for instance, to explain why masturbation is evil.
My favorite part of that has to be towards the end, when she asks, and I quote, “If he already knows what pleases him, and he can please himself, why am I in the picture?” One could, if one wanted to, suggest that this kind of question that keeps O’Donnell up late at night may not bother other women in nearly the same way. “Why me when he’s got his hand?” seems to be one of those questions that has a self-evident answer, but not perhaps if you’re a conservative Christian. Personally, as I noted at XX, I’m skeptical of these stringent anti-masturbation claims. To wingnuts, it may sound like common sense to suggest that sex is way better if you resist getting off any time between puberty and getting married in your mid-20s (or later), but those of us who actually know something about sex would do well to point out that if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it. Then again, maybe that’s the hard line Catholic plan for birth control. If you can’t get there for lack of practice, you won’t be making one baby after another, I suspect.
Anyway, dirty jokes aside, the real question is going to be how the media processes these wins for wingnuttery. There are two potential narratives coming out after Christine “Masturbation Is Evil” O’Donnell and Carl “I’ll Forward Anything, The More Offensive The Better” Paladino. One is to suggest that this is just a tidal wave of anger at the Republican establishment, and that the Tea Partiers brainlessly voted for anyone that wasn’t the party-backed candidate to register their displeasure. This narrative puts the teabaggers in the position of being a bunch of dupes, but it springs them from the moral responsibility for voting for someone who liked to pepper his mass forwarded emails with pimp jokes, vicious racial slurs, and misogynistic porn, or a woman who quite likely is the worst kind of money-grubbing charlatan, as well as an anti-sex nut and a female misogynist.
The other potential narrative is that these candidates won because they’re such over the top wingnuts, and their voters approved of the misogyny and racism. This narrative has the side benefit of having some evidence that the Republican establishment believed it. It’s clear that Rick Lazio got all up on the manufactured mosque issue in an attempt to compete with Paladino in the “who’s the biggest racist?” contest they thought would win voter hearts. But that was a race that Paladino was going to win. Seriously, look at these emails.
I suspect narrative #1 is going to win out. That’s not because the evidence demands it. That’s because it fits the Villagers’ emotional and professional needs to choose the “morally upright but stupid” narrative about teabaggers over the “bunch of bigots who are acting like children” narrative. Emotionally, it’s hard to grasp that large percentages of your fellow Americans might feel more warmly towards someone because he/she spouts unbelievably racist, misogynist, or anti-sex rhetoric. No matter how much evidence there is to suggest that the kind of people who forward emails like the ones Paladino forwarded are hardly rare, the need to believe otherwise trumps the evidence. But it’s also professionally damaging for many Villagers to just run with the evidence that at least some of the voters went for Paladino and O’Donnell because they really liked their extremism. To admit this is to admit that their preferred “fair and balanced” narrative strategies—their knee jerk assumption that “liberals do it too!”—is basically a lie concocted to avoid getting crabby emails from exactly the sort of people who think that Paladino’s idea of basically forcing everyone on unemployment to live as captive in prisons is a good idea. If they don’t stick to the “both sides” scripts, they will be buried under an avalanche of angry mail from people who think that mocking Christine O’Donnell for her hard line anti-masturbation beliefs is the equivalent of jerking off in the streets.
As for what I think, I think the truth is actually somewhere in between these narratives. I think a lot more wingnuts than the Villagers will admit see things like the emails that Paladino sent out or hear about O’Donnell’s misogynist and anti-sex views, and they like them even more. The amount of sadism, racism, and misogyny that motivates the conservative base is routinely underestimated, even by liberal bloggers who are big time cynics like me. But I also think that there is a group of teabaggers that really are that stone cold stupid. They voted without understanding the candidates, or maybe even they heard about some of these stories but decided that they believed that Paladino and O’Donnell really don’t mean the sort of things they say. Or sometimes you get a mix in the same person. But that’s a way more complicated way of looking at this, and so will be rejected out of hand for airing on cable TV news shows.