Values Voter Summit: Christine O'Donnellmania!

Values Voter Summit: Christine O'Donnellmania!

Values Voter Summit: Christine O'Donnellmania!

Weigel
Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Sept. 17 2010 3:40 PM

Values Voter Summit: Christine O'Donnellmania!

One of the best blind quotes of the last decade came from an anonymous "senior Bush adviser" quoted in a 2004 New York Times magazine article by Ron Suskind.

We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. Andwhile you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'llact again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, andthat's how things will sort out. We're history's actors... and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post. 

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That quote catapulted back into my memory as I watched Christine O'Donnell address the Values Voter Summit. One hundred hours ago, the Republican establishment and a large number of the conservative movement's thinkers were in agreement. O'Donnell was an unacceptable candidate. She had falsely claimed to have a college degree in hand when she didn't, falsely claimed to have won two counties against Joe Biden when she didn't, sued one of the citadels of the movement -- the Intercollegiate Studies Institute -- and in that lawsuit, mentioned a Princeton program she was supposedly in that no one heard tell of ever again. She had paid her family and herself from campaign funds. Most unforgivably, she had converted the Delaware seat from a sure Republican gain to a sure Democratic hold.

The establishment pointed this out. The base decided to create a new reality. In this reality, O'Donnell was a maltreated, misunderstood Average American, a Christian attacked for her faith. Going after her was going after them. They responded to the negative coverage of her by crashing her website with more than $1 million of donations -- this for a candidate, again, who has paid her mother from campaign funds, the kind of offense that lights up talk radio when it's committed by Democrats.

The media covers the reality that the base creates, and so O'Donnell arrived at this conference as a superstar. Top talent from ABC News, Fox News, and NBC News waited outside to get a chance to talk to her. A capacity room waited for her to speak, and more than a dozen cameramen splayed onto the floor to capture the moment. The emcee compared her to a bumblebee, who "shouldn't fly according to the laws of physics."

"This week," he said, "bumblebees flew!"

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O'Donnell walked onstage and gripped the papers containing her speech. The gist: She was the embodiment of the Tea Party movement. She experienced "the despondency" that they felt when Barack Obama came to Washington, and was mocked like they were mocked.

"There's something about our national DNA," said O'Donnell, "that stands up and shouts at our would-be masters, you're not the boss of me." She compared the movement, and by extension herself, to Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia: "Of course he isn't safe, but he's good."

The clear goal of the speech was to create a mini-reenactment of Sarah Palin's 2008 speech to the RNC -- not the speech itself, but the narrative. You want proof that I'm just an ordinary/extraordinary person maligned by the press? Here's the proof.

"I never had the high-paying job or the company car," said O'Donnell. "It took me over adecade to pay off my student loans. I never had to worry about where todock my yacht to avoid taxes." So with a joke about John Kerry, she brushed off her financial problems. 

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The rest of the speech was boilerplate, with a few good lines, about the restoration of the Constitution. The new reality was locked into place. Attack her and you're attacking average people, people of faith.

"I would ask you to be much in prayer for Christine O'Donnell," said the emcee. "This woman of faith is going to be under severe attack. And keep this in mind whenever you see the media attack a person of faith. The darkness hates the light."

The reporters who'd come to cover the speech assumed that she wasn't going to win the race. But, aha, what if she did ? In a very short time, the Christine O'Donnell story had changed from one about a flawed candidate whose state party leaders considered unelectable and unfit for office to an Inspiring Story About An Underdog. Reporters were just catching up to what people like Rick Santorum, who stuck around after his speech to catch her, thought about whether O'Donnell could win.

"Of course she can," said Santorum. "Have you seen the polls?"

The polls have her down 11 to 16 points. They're just reflecting the facts on the ground about Delaware and the severe problems that voters have with O'Donnell's career and campaign expenses. So they haven't matched up with the new reality.

David Weigel is a reporter for the Washington Post.