Much has been written about what the ascent of Christine O'Donnell says about the Republican Party. She's portrayed either as a loss leader — a front person for the big corporate money behind the party's oddball resurgence — or as an indication that the Republican embrace of extremism has finally yielded a candidate who is unelectable.
Okay, fine. She's a ninny, and, like Ann Coulter, champions values she's never bothered to live. We get it. But right now what's most interesting about Christine O’Donnell — and the other candidates like her — is what her candidacy says about the opposition:
The Democratic Party is boring. And its women are either old or unattractive.
This is not a superficial problem in a country that has embraced superficiality. The Republicans, left for dead, are on the verge of taking back power because they of what they learned from Sarah Palin in 2008: that the values Americans care about are not family, but entertainment. Sure, it's the party of no; it's also the party of fun. Remember when the GOP was trying to counter Obama with its skinny-necked "serious" candidates, like Bobby Jindal and Tim Pawlenty? It was mocked for its trouble. Now the Republican Party has not so much remade itself as remarketed itself, its familiar cast of corporate shills learning to speak the language of populist outrage from the Tea Party, and its Tea Partiers rallying behind women attractive enough to allow them to forget their own grotesqueries.
Christine O’Donnell, like Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann and Nikki Haley before her, might not be the most beautiful woman in the world, but she has enough sex appeal for a turn on Dancing with the Stars, or for a contract with the Fox News mothership, or for a few contentious seasons on the Real Housewives of the Republican Party, if such a show ever existed, and if O’Donnell ever married or raised a family. The reality-television baseline is becoming the standard of beauty in this country: If you can say really crazy things or lead a really crazy life and become a star, well, then you must be beautiful. The Republicans have cornered the market on beauty because they've cornered the market on crazy, and if they've failed to produce a "candidate" in Delaware, they've succeeded in producing a star, and have made all the tut-tutting pundits look as behind the times as the newspapers they serve. Wherever populism reared its head, there used to be sweaty men; now — in country music, at Fox, and in crossover "Islamaphobe" bloggers who get their picture pasted on the Sunday Times — there are at least semi-sexy women.
The Democrats didn't think they had to worry about any of this. They weren't looking for stars because they had the biggest star in the world as their president. He didn't have a populist bone in his body, but he was a deeply thoughtful man and a galvanic speaker both, and he promised to transcend the bone-grind of American politics. With his promise of one-man racial reconciliation, he was transfixing, but the independents who were transfixed by him needed to keep being transfixed, and on this, he couldn't deliver. The American public turned against Obama not when it found out he was radical, or wish-washy, or power-mad, or timid, or what have you; it turned against him when he stopped being entertaining. It turned against him when it found out his real secret — that under his professorial mien he was, well, a professor. Outside the enforced electricity of a national electoral referendum, he was dutiful, and he was dull.
It is something of an unfair fight now: a party led by a man who clearly thinks too much before he speaks against a party led by a semi-sexy woman who will say anything — hell, whose idea of a debating strategy in 2008 was a table dance. And the Democrats don't have an answer, because they've so deeply misjudged what the American electorate wants and is capable of. They thought that after the trauma of the Bush years, we would want a no-drama president; a regal First Lady; endless pages of necessary legislation, achieved at a political cost that proves the party’s commitment and courage; and a few more women on the Supreme Court who prove the party's emphasis on excellence and ethnicity over eros. They didn't realize that what we want is drama and nothing but, and so the Democrats became the CNN to the Repubican Fox, clueless in their competence, bewildered by their own best intentions. Washington used to be known as Hollywood for ugly people, but that is changing, and what the Republicans understand is precisely what the Democrats don't: that the same revolution that transformed country music and broadcast news is under way in politics, and that once it takes hold it will be more permanent than any change in the electorate. The Democrats haven't lost the soccer moms because the soccer moms are suddenly so concerned about federal spending eating up their children's inheritance; they've lost the soccer moms because they can't find a single candidate who looks like one.
So what can a party whose idea of star power is Al Franken and a Hollywood fundraiser hosted by Laurie David do to match a party whose ruthless insight is "control the cheerleader, control the world"? Well, for one thing, it can look back on its own recent history. It's no accident that the most successful Democratic politician of the past quarter-century was a sexy Lothario with an attractive though habitually spurned wife. For all the mistakes they made, the Clintons never made the fatal one of thinking they were above the need to entertain, and once President Obama takes his drubbing in the midterms, he can forge his way forward by learning from them:
First, announce that he is indeed bringing Hillary Clinton back to the White House, as his vice-presidential candidate for 2012.
And then have a wall-banging affair with her.
That way, everybody will get what they want. They can be as wonky as they want to be, and we, the American electorate, will finally get the reality television of our dreams.