Meghan McCain may have sparked a Republican war yesterday when she said the Delaware Senatorial candidate Christine O'Donnell, the right wing's latest darling, comes off as a "nut job." McCain's word choice may be spot on, sure, but her argument still misses the mark, and ends up doing more damage than O'Donnell.
"I just know, in my group of friends, it turns people off because she's seen as a nut job," said McCain, Sen. John McCain's daughter, about O'Donnell's candidacy.
Sure, O'Donnell's positions, including assertions that masturbation's sinful, homosexuality's an "identity" disorder and all abortion, even in cases of rape, should be banned, qualify as "nutty," McCain's argument wasn't simply about policy. It was about our political system as a whole.
According to McCain, O'Donnell's campaign, rife with ridiculous footnotes, brings disgrace to the American political system because the candidate has no real "experience."
"I speak as a 26-year-old woman and my problem is that, no matter what, Christine O'Donnell is making a mockery of running for public office... She has no real history, no real success in any kind of business," insisted McCain. "That sends to my generation is: one day you can just wake up and run for Senate, no matter how [much of] a lack of experience you have. And it scares for me for a lot of reasons."
McCain's ahead of her Republican peers when it comes to essential democratic issues, like gay marriage, but her rationale here gouges our nation's fundamental message.
O'Donnell's not the only Senate candidate being written off as a joke. Alvin Greene, the Democratic Senate hopeful from South Carolina, also became a punch line since his surprise primary win, especially after he suggested we solve the budget crisis by selling Alvin Greene Action Figures.
As the press tore Greene apart and fellow Democrats launched investigations into his campaign, I remember being quite inspired by this out-of-nowhere candidate.
No, Greene doesn't have a shot in hell of winning his campaign. Nor, for that matter, does O'Donnell, who trails behind her far less famous opponent Chris Coons by double digits. Winning, however, is not the point here: O'Donnell and Greene represent the populist ideal that makes America great.
Though the Tea Party has taken "populism" and coopted it into a more traditionally conservative message, our nation was founded on that idea that every adult citizen has a stake in the political process, and that includes running for office, no matter their experience or family connections. The "little man" can take on, and beat, the elite. That's the lesson we're taught, at least, and it's one Americans should never forget.
While McCain finds O'Donnell's experience to be lacking, it's important we all remember that one of our greatest presidents, Abraham Lincoln, had only 18 months of formal education. Experience, in that case, clearly didn't come from higher education or privileged background. It was experience of a different variety, and one that was just as valid.
Christine O'Donnell is no genius -- and Lincoln was, by many accounts, above average intelligence -- but her candidacy does not "mock" the political system. If anything, her quixotic campaign, as well as her new-found prominence, are testament to the American dream, both in terms of politics and the rags-to-riches narrative. And that, more than any policy or legislative impact she may have, will always be O'Donnell's best quality--one that should be celebrated, rather than scorned.
McCain claims O'Donnell's sending an entire generation the wrong message, yet fails to realize that tearing down O'Donnell's "lack of experience" relays a far more harmful lesson: a lack of "acceptable" experience or resources disqualifies one from public office, so don't even try.
A version of this piece also appeared at Death and Taxes Magazine.