Political Hay

The Ruling Class Hits Christine O’Donnell

Conservatives gang up on Tea Party favorite as Ruling Class issue rises.

By 9.10.10

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Breathes there a soul who doesn't love the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal?

Who has not been delighted by National Review and its National Review Online?

Well, yes, actually. Lots of souls, undoubtedly the finest of liberals and left-wingers in America.

So to disagree with our friends at the WSJ or NRO is something we do in this space with some care.

The Journal has lifted the editorial lamp to shine it on Delaware's Republican Congressman Mike Castle, engaged in what was once thought to be a sure-thing walk-in-the-park primary win in preparation for a sure-thing walk-in-the-park win of Vice President Joe Biden's old Senate seat. Mr. Castle is a career GOP politician, a liberal Republican as they say in the trade, who has also served as Delaware's governor, among other political sinecures.

Castle's problem, much discussed here and lots of places these days, is conservative activist Christine O'Donnell. Willing to nominate her for the Senate when Castle didn't have the nerve to take on Biden directly (losing is never a winner with some), now that the seat is open she is being given the bum's rush. In the words of the Journal editorial, O'Donnell is a "two-time loser statewide" and "an itinerant conservative commentator and activist."

Over at NRO the treatment has been more polite but still the same old, same old.. Estimable conservatives all, NRO'ers Jim Geraghty, Jonah Goldberg, Dan Foster, and Andrew Stuttaford jumped on the Castle bandwagon, taking swings at O'Donnell.

Follow me here.

This week The American Spectator released a small but important book called The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It. Written by Angelo Codevilla, it is an expanded version of the essay that ran in the July/August issue of The American Spectator magazine and later online.

The article drew a stunning response when it appeared, with Rush Limbaugh not only devoting all three hours of his show to the article but now contributing an introduction to the book.

What does Codevilla's book have to do with the Castle-O'Donnell fight and our friends at the WSJ and NRO? Uncomfortably, I think, plenty.

Says Codevilla: "… in fact Republican and Democratic office holders and their retinues show a similar presumption to dominate and fewer differences in tastes, habits, opinions, and sources of income among one another than between both and the rest of the country. They think, look, and act as a class."

A class that Codevilla dubs "The Ruling Class" -- as opposed to its opposite -- "The Country Class," a decidedly heterogeneous class, in fact the bulk of America, that "defines itself practically in terms of reflexive reaction against the rulers' defining ideas and proclivities -- e.g., ever higher taxes and expanding government, subsidizing political favorites, social engineering, approval of abortion, etc." There's much, much more in this new book, but you get the point.

But here's the key Codevilla point that is relevant to the WJS and NRO in terms of the Castle-O'Donnell race:

Like a fraternity, this class requires above all comity -- being in with the right people, giving the required signs that one is on the right side, and joining in and despising the Outs.

This is a pluperfect description of the Mike Castle candidacy, and if I may say so about our friends at the WSJ and NRO on this particular issue of Christine O'Donnell.

Codevilla summons a telling anecdote to illustrate this problem as it is displayed in Republican circles.

Former "Soviet dictator Mikhail Gorbachev tells us that in 1987 then vice president George H.W. Bush distanced himself from his own administration by telling him, "Reagan is a conservative, an extreme conservative. All the dummies and blockheads are with him…" 

Adds Codevilla in describing this kind of stunning remark from Reagan's own vice president: "This is all about a class of Americans distinguishing itself from its inferiors. It recalls the Pharisee in the Temple: 'Lord, I thank thee that I am not like other men.'"

This, precisely, appears to be what's going on in some quarters of the conservative movement and the Republican Party with the Christine O'Donnell candidacy -- and before that the Senate candidacies of Sharron Angle in Nevada, Joe Miller in Alaska, and Mike Lee in Utah.

 There appears to be a Ruling Class take on all these candidates, of which Christine O'Donnell is but the latest. Read the criticisms of O'Donnell again from the WSJ and NRO in the light of Codevilla's startling X-ray of the current state of American politics:

WSJ: "A two-time loser statewide, Ms. O'Donnell has a history of financial troubles and recently told the Weekly Standard her home and office were vandalized, though she hadn't reported it to police. She recently accused a conservative local talk radio host that he had been "paid off" by Mr. Castle's supporters after he asked her tough questions."

NRO (Geraghty): "With Christine O'Donnell, all we have are promises. We can't evaluate her on her record in elected office because she has no record. O'Donnell seems determined to begin her political career by winning a U.S. Senate seat; she has never served in a local board of education, town or city council, state legislature, etc. Her next general-election victory will be her first."

NRO (Goldberg): "I don't know that much about Delaware, but people I trust say that Castle may well be the best we can hope for there." And: "Also, it's worth pointing out that we want more liberal Republicans, we just want them to replace Democrats. If Northeast Republicans have to be more liberal than Southwest ones to win, that's okay."

NRO (Foster): "Forty Jim DeMints or 60 Lindsey Grahams? Forty Christine O'Donnell's or 60 Mike Castles?" and "So, again: would conservatives in Delaware rather win, or send a message?"

NRO (Stuttaford): "As for the idea that reducing the GOP to a rump of true believers (whatever that might actually mean: there are plenty on the right who interpret the terms "limited government" and "free people" in very different ways) is the essential first step in a Republican restoration, it is, I am afraid, a bad mistake. Wildernesses are, almost always, for losers." 

If I may say respectfully, all of this is Ruling Class reasoning par excellence. What is interesting is that William F. Buckley, Jr. is being cited by both NRO's Goldberg and the Wall Street Journal as supporting "the most conservative candidate who could win" in the Journal's phrase. In fact, Buckley didn't follow his own advice. He supported Barry Goldwater for the 1964 GOP presidential nomination over Republicans Nelson Rockefeller and Henry Cabot Lodge, either of whom, if nominated, would surely have managed a better race against the more liberal Lyndon Johnson than Goldwater, who carried a mere five states. Buckley personally challenged liberal Republican Congressman John Lindsay for the New York mayoralty in 1965. Lindsay was the Mike Castle of New York City -- yet Buckley plowed ahead, winning 13.4% of the vote and ignoring pleas he might cost Lindsay the election.

It must be said here that the reason Ms. O'Donnell is a "two-time loser" is that she had the guts to take on up-hill Senate races in the first place. Where was Mike Castle when it was time to challenge Democrat incumbent Senator Tom Carper in 2006? Where was Castle when it was time to challenge Biden in 2008 -- when Biden was playing the Ruling Class game and had a ballot spot for both re-election to the Senate and on Obama's ticket as vice president? Answer? Not running. Why? Because the man who so much wants to be a United States Senator from Delaware didn't want to mar his reputation with a loss -- thus enabling some Ruling Class writer to describe Castle as a "two-time statewide loser." Such things are important in Ruling Class circles, and the fact that O'Donnell paid no heed and took on Delaware's political goliaths Carper and Biden anyway is a sign of Country Class guts.

So too is the treatment of mistakes or personal problems treated differently, a Ruling Class trait that dates at least since the so-called "Nixon's Fund" issue of 1952. The fact that Democratic nominee Adlai Stevenson had a similar fund (in which contributors paid for political travel expenses and the like) was a big no-deal to the Ruling Class. It was Nixon who had the "scandal" and was forced to go on national television to save his candidacy. This trait has surfaced repeatedly since. Ruling Class candidates can catch a pass for everything from Chappaquiddick (Ted Kennedy) to the Keating Five (John McCain and John Glenn) to plagiarism (Joe Biden) to questionable financing of real estate deals (Obama) -- and hey, no problem. If you're Christine O'Donnell or any other Country Class candidate, this is used as an example of un-electability if not bad character or worse. The interesting fact that her tax problems with the IRS says bad things to the Ruling Class and is seen as yet one more sign of an average American's struggles with government is a decided telling point in the difference in perception between Ruling Class and Country Class.

Both the Goldwater presidential run and the Buckley mayoralty race, ironically, are direct refutations to Castle's conservative supporters. Carrying five states in a race for president and 13.4% in a run for mayor -- particularly in the latter case when Republican nominee Lindsay in fact won the election -- are the political ancestors of the Castle-O'Donnell argument.

The question for conservatives must always be: victory to what end? 

Codevilla illustrates in vivid fashion that for the Ruling Class the agenda is always about one thing: power. Power for itself.

Christine O'Donnell, self-evidently, could care less about this, as is true of her compatriot candidates Angle, Lee, and Miller. This was true of Ronald Reagan himself. Hence the Ruling Class reaction to him throughout his entire political career -- and even, in the seventh year of his presidency, from his own Ruling Class vice president. Reagan was an "extremist," decidedly not of the Ruling Class. What's particularly ironic in Reagan's case is that it would have been so utterly easy for him to just give-in. A well-established movie and television star, extremely popular, classy to the max, Reagan had but to shrug and he would have been part of the in-crowd. He never did it.

It is interesting here that part of O'Donnell's support comes from talk radio. Talk radio itself -- not to mention its individual stars -- is disdained by many in the Ruling Class (though not, it must be said, at the WSJ or NRO.). When Rush or Sean or Mark push a button and say "let's go to Sally in Peoria" -- chances are high they will have on the other end of the line a card-carrying member of the Country Class. It is no secret that any of those three talk radio hosts and others, pick your favorite, are decidedly not seen as applicants for the Ruling Class.

Will Christine O'Donnell beat Mike Castle next week? The polls are closing and she may well do just that. Would her election be tough? Sure. Could she lose? Sure.

But when is a lost election really a lost election? If the conservative agenda is to move the country away from the nightmare of the Obama-era's left-wing fanaticism, isn't any kind of a showing by a conservative in Delaware a victory for the larger cause? In the same sense that without Goldwater there would have been no Reagan, without Buckley no Rudy Giuliani? And who, beyond the Ruling Class, says O'Donnell has to lose in the first place? What if…gasp!…she wins?

As a Pennsylvanian, it is well remembered here that liberal Republicans insisted in 1976 that Reagan was an extremist and the GOP had to go with President Castle -- er -- Ford. So the argument carried the day. And Ford not only lost the election itself he couldn't even carry Pennsylvania. By 1980, voters got the drift. Not only was Reagan nominated over Bush, he carried 44 states in 1980 and 49 states in 1984 -- including Pennsylvania both times. Bush, by the way, ran on Reagan's coattails in 1988 and carried the state. In 1992, fully on his own after four years in the White House himself, he lost both the election and -- yes -- Pennsylvania.

Just last year, hearing the news that liberal Republican Arlen Specter had defected to the Democrats because the Christine O'Donnell of Pennsylvania -- Pat Toomey -- was clobbering him in GOP primary polls, South Carolina's Senator Lindsey Graham took to the cameras to lecture conservatives that they had wronged Specter and Toomey couldn't win. Why? Because in Pennsylvania we supposedly only elect GOP liberals. Toomey, as this is written, is leading liberal Democrat Joe Sestak by ten points.

The argument -- used to justify nominating all manner of moderate Republicans at the presidential and state level from Specter on back to Reagan -- is bogus. Conservatives can and have won elections in the Northeast. But more to the point: what if they lose? Is this election about having a Ruling Class candidate and member of the fraternity who's a "good guy" (or girl) who immediately sets about continuing to build what Goldwater once described as "The Dime Store New Deal"? Or is it about moving the philosophical ball down the field as Goldwater and Buckley did, the latter who could easily have been described as an "itinerant conservative commentator and activist" to use the description applied to O'Donnell. Indeed, if conservatives had a nickel for every time Buckley was dismissed by the Ruling Class as a "conservative gadfly," we would all be surviving Obamanomics in style.

The distinction here is important.

For the Ruling Class, as Codevilla baldly points out, the true objective is always about nothing more or less than power for the "in crowd." Power simply for the sake of power.

And whatever else Christine O'Donnell has done in her life, being part of that "in crowd" has never been high on her list. If she's elected, she may well be one wrecking ball of a senator -- totally willing to not be part of the Ruling Class club. The prospect of a "Senator O'Donnell" utterly terrifies the Delaware Ruling Class. Not to mention some Ruling Class members who've never set foot in the state.

That, when you really get down to it, is what this election is really all about.

Buckle in.

There are a lot more of these Ruling Class versus Country Class elections to come.

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.