Why Christine O'Donnell Could Be More Dangerous Than Sarah Palin

By James Fallows

Because she has the idiot bravado of the talk show regular.

I write this 2/3rds of the way into her "debate" with Chris Coons in Newark, Delaware.*

Sarah Palin was wounded by Katie Couric and Charlie Gibson in their 2008 interviews because she seemed at some level aware of what she didn't know. She was obviously uncomfortable with Couric's "What newspapers, specifically, do you read?" question because she sensed that the topic held perils. She acted the way I would if questioned about, say, opera. ("Which ones do I like? All of them! They're so great. All those notes!")

In this debate tonight, O'Donnell has not seemed uncomfortable for one second** -- even in her most obvious dodge, about whether she really thinks evolution is a "myth." The difference is, she is a talk show regular. Among the many things wrong with talking-head gab shows, which have proliferated/ metastasized in the past generation -- they're cheap to produce, they fill air time, they make journalists into celebrities, they suit the increasing political niche-ization of cable networks -- is that they reward an affect of breezy confidence on all topics and penalize admissions of complexity, of ignorance on a specific topic, or of the need for time to think.

O'Donnell comes across as a perfect, unflappable product of the talk-show culture. Sarah Palin knows that she is bad under open questioning -- so she avoids it, speaks only to selected audiences, is interviewed only by Fox. If she were to run for president, which I've always doubted, this would make her brittle for the unavoidable main campaign. Christine O'Donnell shows that the other path can create a better, unshakably on-message product for this era.

Bill Maher thinks he has been laughing at Christine O'Donnell with his old clips of her appearances on his shows. If she wins, Bill Maher will have created her.
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* Almost my home town. My parents more or less flipped a coin, on my dad's leaving service as a Navy doctor, on whether to join a small medical clinic in southern California or one in Newark, Del. I almost had a chance to vote in this election.

** She did seem fazed for a second when asked to name a Supreme Court decision she objected to, and couldn't. She seemed to recognize that it would have been better to name one.

*** Bonus note to Chris Coons: If you ever do this again, remove the following phrase from your vocabulary: "There's too much here to answer." Just start answering. Pretend you're on a talk show.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2010/10/why-christine-odonnell-could-be-more-dangerous-than-sarah-palin/64542/