Washington elites' heads exploded when Christine O'Donnell won the Republican Senate primary in Delaware last week. Luckily they were all reading The New York Times' op-ed page at the time, so the mess their exploding heads created was minimal.
The establishment's complaints are confusing. They say O'Donnell has a problem because she's never held a job in the private sector (like our president), didn't pay her taxes (like our treasury secretary), and had her house foreclosed on (like half of the electorate).
They also accuse her of saying crazy things -- but she's running for Joe Biden's old seat, so this may be an advantage.
This week, all we've heard about is how O'Donnell once said she went on a date with a guy in high school who claimed to be a witch. (So what? Bill Clinton married one!) Bill Clinton was credibly accused of at least one forcible rape. Those two seem about equal to you?
I haven't seen hypocrisy like this since -- oh, that's right, since last week when CBS's Bob Schieffer attacked John Boehner for smoking, after two years of the media's ferociously avoiding the topic of Obama's cigarette habit.
The Republican Party is being warned that tea party-endorsed candidates such as O'Donnell might lead to Barry Goldwater-style epic defeats.
Of course, the tea party candidates range from libertarian Rand Paul in Kentucky to Yale Law/Iraq War veteran Joe Miller in Alaska to Christian activist O'Donnell. But any evidence of principle in a Republican is always treated by the elites as if it's an embarrassing eccentricity best kept under wraps.
Referring to "fringe candidates" from the tea party, Morton Kondracke wrote in Roll Call that Republicans are "heading out of the mainstream" and cited Goldwater as a "disastrous" precedent.
David Gergen said on CNN that the tea party candidates may be producing "something like what we saw back the 1960s when the rise of Barry Goldwater seized power in the party back from the establishment, took it, but then went on to get a real drubbing in that '64 national election."CNN's Gloria Borger also compared the tea party movement's demand for ideological purity to the conservatives' ill-fated nomination of Barry Goldwater.
As a one-off, 46-year-old example, Goldwater is like the Timothy McVeigh of conservative presidential candidates. But if Goldwater is going to keep being used as a boogeyman to scare conservatives, let's at least get the history straight.
Ironically, the elites also compared Reagan to Goldwater and predicted a devastating defeat for him in 1980. But Reagan didn't lose. He not only never lost an election, he never won by less than a landslide. (You might say Reagan's opponents suffered Goldwater-style defeats.)
So what was the difference between Goldwater and Reagan? Had the country changed that much in 16 years?
The social issues were the difference. Reagan agreed with Goldwater on fiscal and national defense issues, but by 1980, social issues loomed large and Reagan came down mightily on one side -- the opposite side as Goldwater, as it turned out.
Unlike abortion-loving Goldwater, Reagan said, "We cannot survive as a free nation when some men decide that others are not fit to live and should be abandoned to abortion or infanticide."
And unlike gay-marriage-loving Goldwater, Reagan said: "Society has always regarded marital love as a sacred expression of the bond between a man and a woman. It is the means by which families are created and society itself is extended into the future. ... We will resist the efforts of some to obtain government endorsement of homosexuality."
Goldwater may have been a thorough-going right-winger on national defense, but -- unless L. Brent Bozell Jr. was writing it for him -- he never would have said this of the Soviets, as President Reagan did: "There is sin and evil in the world and we are enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might."
Yes, the man who called the Soviet Union an "Evil Empire," who wrote a book against abortion as a sitting president, and who said that our government's founding documents "speak of man being created, of a creator, that we are a nation under God" -- that's the one Borger calls "the most secular president we've known in our lifetime."
By "most secular," I gather she means "most deeply religious."
Establishment Republicans are always telling Christian conservatives to put our issues aside because they're not popular -- and then moderate Republicans go on to lose elections, while conservative Republicans win in landslides. (It's almost as if the voters couldn't care less who David Brooks thinks they should vote for!)
As long as liberals are going to keep gleefully citing Goldwater's love of gay marriage and abortion, his contempt for Christian conservatives, and his statement that "every good Christian should line up and kick Jerry Falwell's ass," maybe they could ease up on blaming Christian conservatives for Goldwater's historic loss.
Goldwater wasn't our guy; Reagan was.