The XX Factor

The Wingnuts’ Wingnut

Congratulations to the Delaware Republican Party for introducing a candidate for Senate so wingnutty she might actually make Sharron ” Second Amendment Remedies ” Angle look moderate. Christine O’Donnell upset party-backed favorite, Mike Castle, to gain the Republican nomination, despite being a really bad candidate by any reality-based measure. She’s plagued with a history of lying about her education, dishonesty about her finances, and a sea of angry former supporters who hate her for being financially irresponsible, among other things. But I think what’s really going to stick to her like hair on a cat lady is going to be her history of being upfront about her extreme anti-sex views.

O’Donnell has the usual wingnut slate of gay-hating, Mel Gibson-worshipping, abstinence-only blather going on. But what’s really grabbing the headlines is her firm belief that any kind of sexual expression outside of marriage is evil, including masturbation . For those of us who are longtime anti-choice movement watchers, this sort of stance is hardly as surprising as it probably sounds to outsiders. Prominent proponets of abortion bans and abstinence-only education frequently hold the position that masturbation or any kind of nonintercourse experimentation is the first step to becoming some kind of orgasm junkie who has to crawl the streets looking for a harder fix. (Indeed, 44 percent of Americans assume abstinence includes abstaining from masturbation, with the numbers much higher for self-identified evangelical Christians.) For many of us in the “liberal media,” it’s surprising that even the Republican base would vote for someone who took special delight in running around on television decrying any sexual pleasure outside of strictly regulated, contraception-free, marital intercourse.

But that’s because we have an enthusiasm for linking stated beliefs and lived beliefs that isn’t shared by movement conservatives. We do live in a country where 38 percent of Americans condemn premarital sex but 95 percent of Americans have done it. The overlap between those groups is why outspoken wingnuts can win primaries. There are just a lot of people who get wild for bold proclamations of moral absolutes they have zero interest in actually living by. That, or they think the rules are for other, less worthy people.

In fact, this conundrum goes a long way toward explaining the Tea Party beyond just the occasional election of women who claim you’re cheating on your future spouse if you take a little time for yourself. If there’s one principle that defines the conservative movement, it’s this tendency to spout big principles they personally have no interest in living by. That’s why you have Tea Partiers denouncing “socialized medicine” and then spreading rumors that Obama is going to take away their Medicare, which is actually the closest thing to socialized medicine Americans have.  Or Michele Bachmann can go on at length about the evils of government handouts while taking $250,000 in farm subsidies for herself. Or Tea Party leaders who enjoy denouncing people who rely on social spending partaking of disability themselves. Or Newt Gingrich figuring that he’s got a full right to set up his next wife while still married to the one who is beginning to bore him. The ability to make loud, absolutist proclamations excites movement conservatives; but actually living by the rules they write is for other people.

Photograph of Christine O’Donnell by Mark Wilson/Getty Images.