Christine and the Catholic Tea Party

Christine O’Donnell’s surprise victory in Delaware has stunned the pundits.  It’s called a Tea Party victory, but in fact it was something a bit different. 

O’Donnell’s message was consistently grounded in the social conservatism of her Catholic faith, with a strong emphasis on the sanctity of life and the defense of marriage.  

The role of religious conservative voters in the Delaware election, a state whose largest denomination is Roman Catholic, was quickly acknowledged by the liberal commentators at Politics Daily:

 

One theory is that O’Donnell’s public religious devotion helped her to pull more religious and social conservatives alongside tea party supporters, who usually focus more heavily on economic and political conservatism.

The problem with this comment is the implied division between Tea Party supporters and social conservatives — they are to a great extent one and the same.

Her campaign attracted the support of the Catholics in Delaware and in the adjacent states; now it is attracting support nationwide. 

O’Donnell’s sudden ascendancy is a good example of the kind of Catholic Tea Party dynamism I described this past February in “Is It Time for a Catholic Tea Party” and at the Catholic Advocate event at CPAC shortly thereafter.

The same impatience that Catholics increasingly feel at the compromises made by the USCCB in funding community organizing groups supporting abortion and gay marriage is being directed toward Republicans who ignore social issues such as these.

O’Donnell’s six percentage point victory (53% to 47%) over Mike Castle was an expression of voters who will not accept putting abortion “on the shelf” in the coming presidential election as recommended by Governors Barbour and Daniels. (Surely there is another way to factor in the intensity of voter concern over the economy and jobs in this election cycle without dissing the intrinsic importance of life and marriage in political participation.)

But, as Karl Rove and others have pointed out, Christine O’Donnell is going to have a hard time defending herself against attacks about her finances and her media commentary.  No doubt researchers are at this very moment digging into the campaign financing of her past races as well as any and all commentary on shows like Bill Maher’s “Politically Incorrect.”

O’Donnell would be well served by her advisers telling her to own up to any misstatements or exaggerations that might become the subject of endless attacks and allegations. Her decision not to go on several major Sunday news shows may have been needed to give her more time to prepare for the onslaught, but a “Face the Nation” appearance was an opportunity to clear the air sooner rather than later.

Christine O’Donnell is like all the other men and women in our Congress — she is human, she is flawed, and she wants to serve.  

Once O’Donnell addresses the questions still pending about her finances and media appearances, I hope she will be allowed to bring her considerable energy to the advocacy of issues, both fiscal and social, that led to her stunning victory over the favorite of the GOP establishment.

 

Deal W. Hudson

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Deal W. Hudson is ​publisher and editor of The Christian Review and the host of "Church and Culture," a weekly two-hour radio show on the Ave Maria Radio Network.​ Formerly publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine for ten years, his articles and comments have been published widely in publications such as the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Washington Post, and U.S. News and World Report. He has also appeared on TV and radio news shows such as the O'Reilly Factor, Hannity & Colmes, NBC News, and All Things Considered on National Public Radio. Hudson worked with Karl Rove in coordinating then-Gov. George W. Bush's outreach to Catholic voters in 2000 and 2004. In October 2003, President Bush appointed him a member of the official delegation from the United States to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of John Paul II's papacy. Hudson, a former professor of philosophy for 15 years, is the editor and author of eight books. He tells the story of his conversion from Southern Baptist to Catholic in An American Conversion (Crossroad, 2003), and his latest, Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States, was published in March 2008. He is married to Theresa Carver Hudson, also a Baptist convert, and they have two children, Hannah and Cyprian who was adopted from Romania in 2001.

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