Douthat argues that liberals add fuel to the culture wars:
With Christine O’Donnell, as with Sarah Palin before her, American liberals have been confronted with a politician who’s vulnerable to all sorts of possible attacks, and whose record and qualifications and positions provide plenty of fodder for either a high-minded, issues-based critique, or a more no-holds-barred assault on her honesty and integrity. And what do liberals want to talk about? Why, her decade-old comments on masturbation, of course!
I agree with Ross that the attempt to link O'Donnell's belief that masturbation is morally wrong to "socialism" is truly a long stretch. But it is not a stretch to connect it to the illiberal theoconservative social project that now dominates the worldview of the GOP.
O'Donnell's stance against masturbation is related to the new natural law that is central to the theoconservative project that Douthat endorses and believes in (and that is at the core of the Republican party base). It is rooted in the notion that any sex that is not self-giving in a lifelong marital bond between a man and a woman is destructive of the human soul and also of the community at large. (See "The Theoconservative Project" chapter in The Conservative Soul for a longer treatment of this.) And theocons are not classical liberals - they see all this as interwoven with society at large and central to what the Pope sees as modernity's core sexual and spiritual problems.
They do not believe that masturbation can be a truly private act, no more than gay sex or homosexual relationships can be. The way in which jerking off divorces sex from procreation and marriage is as repugnant to them as is same-sex marriage and for the same reasons. O'Donnell, in other words, believes that masturbating has social ramifications, because it reduces sexuality to what used to be called self-abuse, and this itself corrupts society as a whole and weakens the family. This is exactly and explicitly the same rationale for the thoecon refusal to acknowledge gay relationships, their opposition to contraception and pornography, and, in part, to abortion.
Now, O'Donnell is not proposing to criminalize wanking - but not because, in an ideal world, it shouldn't be illegal. She, like Robbie George, chief theocon, only opposes criminalization of wanking because it would be absurdly impractical and unenforceable. They have only a prudential and not a principled opposition to criminalizing masturbation in modern America. So they rely on those things they can practically enforce, like preventing any public acknowledgment of same-sex marriage, or, not so long ago, arresting gay couples for private acts in their own bedrooms.
O'Donnell is an important figure not because she is a flake, as Bill Kristol says. She is important because she is as yet too guileless to lie about her real views, or to conceal the reactionary worldview that animates them. She is not an outlier. She is a very powerful way to understand what the theoconservative project is really about - and what the GOP base truly believes in.
She is the modern GOP. And maybe her emergence will help more people snap out of denial.
(Photo: Brendan Hoffman/Getty.)