Christine O’Donnell, candidate for senator in Delaware, was clearly a religious seeker in her youth. Bill Maher played a clip last night in which she admitted that she might well have joined the Hindu Krishna Consciousness Society (popularly known as ‘Hare Krishnas’ because of their distinctive chanting in public places), but was put off by their vegetarianism (‘I’m Italian, I like meat balls.)
Bill Maher also admitted to deliberately attempting to torpedo O’Donnell. His strategy is called in professional political circles the ‘Blue Hair’ gambit. A significant voting bloc among Republicans is elderly white women who put a high value on conventional morality. What Maher is doing is turning off the Blue Hairs to O’Donnell, and without them she likely loses. This strategy was also deployed by John Kerry in 2004, when he emphasized that the Cheneys have a gay daughter. That was an attempt to sink the Bush-Cheney ticket with the Blue Hairs. It was pretty low. Maher’s broadsides are more justifiable, since they are about O’Donnell’s own actions and choices.
But the Maher strategy is a little disturbing, as well, since that she was a religious seeker in her youth is not actually very relevant to her contemporary candidacy. O’Donnell’s story is a sad reminder that many religious seekers, who experiment with a number of traditions, are not actually so much open-minded as in search of a narrative about life that will give them certainty (the Society of Krishna Consciousness is as close as Hinduism gets to fundamentalism in its own right). Once O’Donnell settled on right wing Christianity, she became insufferable. And that is what should damn her politically– that she wants to impose her sectarian morality on all of us– not that she tried out other fundamentalisms when young.