As welcome as inconvenient relations coming for Thanksgiving dinner, the Tea Party movement has upset America’s political order to varying degrees. And Christine O’Donnell can lay claim to being one of the Tea Party’s opening toasts. A complete underdog, she narrowly lost a 2010 Senate race in Delaware that pitted her against the national GOP establishment as well as a dishwater Democrat opponent.
But her book is a winner.
Part memoir, part political tract, the whole seasoned with a populism steeped in the faith she embraced in adulthood, Troublemaker is not the usual book written by a former candidate: i.e., a self-serving piece of pap penned in order to advance future political ambitions. She does not hint at another run for office — she says she did so in the first place based on suggestions from disparate individuals she believes were too coincidental to be coincidental — nor is the reader left with the impression that she wants to.
For O’Donnell, a longtime political commentator and social activist, is passionate about politics as a way of supporting the common good, not advancing the personal interests so many politicians conceal beneath idealistic talk. This is a book more about the message than the messenger, and its recipe for American spiritual renewal bears the instruction of an opening quote: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Like any good book, it makes one think deeply and well — and well of the author, to boot: a principled truth-seeker, yet cheerfully self-effacing and scrappy. In short, a good egg with a good head on her shoulders. If she were not, the book’s last page would smack of the worst hypocrisy and not be worthy of review in these pages: It features the entire Litany of Humility.
The book begins with an engaging personal backgrounder. O’Donnell’s populist sensibilities and personal appeal have their roots in a big New Jersey family of Irish-Italian heritage, where hard work, selflessness and a celebration of personal theatricality (“I caught the acting bug from my father,” who once played Bozo) made for a pleasant potpourri. It did lack, however, one element that would prove ever more vital as she grew older: the Catholic faith as a truly lived experience, informing one’s whole heart and mind. When she grew up, her family was only nominally Catholic.
She would discover the faith as she matured and made important personal discoveries that would shape her intellect and character. (“God has to build and strengthen your character before he can release you into your calling,” she notes. “Otherwise, fulfilling your purpose could be the very thing that crushes you.”)
Abortion was a key turning point. Like many young people, she was casually “pro-choice” in college — until a pro-life friend encouraged her to read up on what that “choice” entailed. The medical book she consulted described the procedure in such objective detail that the subjective horror “shattered my whole worldview, to the point where I came away thinking, If I’ve been wrong about abortion, what else am I wrong about?”
Her moral — and, later, religious — transformation would go in tandem with her political life, leading her to work on behalf of pro-life causes and challenge the MTV generation, even appearing on MTV itself to present views on contemporary issues alternative to the immorality pushed by that channel.
In addition to various advocacy work, she also would work passionately to promote The Passion of the Christ. She learned a lot about politics via Mel Gibson’s pioneering method of promoting a difficult movie that the Hollywood establishment balked at backing: namely that appealing directly to the people to promote a cause can be more effective than worrying about coddling up to the establishment, which may opportunistically go along with you anyway if it senses popular appeal.
The book concludes with a prudential plan for American renewal, emphasizing grassroots efforts and modern communications to promote the commonsense convictions of a conservatism of the heart as well as of the mind, anchored in Catholic social and political teaching. She hopefully casts America’s “crisis of faith” in the context of the faith, noting that trite sound bites (“my body, my choice”) go up in smoke when placed against the truth of the ages, perpetually burning but never consumed; and that moral and spiritual problems cannot be fixed with cheap political bandages. The renewal she propounds is nothing new, yet ever pertinent, based on “centuries of theological development and clarity regarding the initial deposit of the faith that has become a touchstone of magisterial teaching, including documents such as Humanae Vitae, the groundbreaking encyclical by Pope Paul VI on human dignity and personhood, the principles that should direct all aspects of governing and servant leadership.”
Any political system advocating contrary principles — graphically through abortion, subtly through socialist policies based on a materialistic view of man that leads to civilization-destroying servitude and boredom — goes against our God-given nature and, as history has shown, will be short-lived. The challenge is: Will the system irretrievably decimate a people or will the people retake the system to promote cultural and civic renewal before it’s too late? Like a good Christian, O’Donnell is hopefully fighting the good fight — a good, hard fight, that is, unadulterated by the false optimism of an easy victory.
Register correspondent Matthew A. Rarey writes from Chicago.
Let’s Do What It Takes to Make America Great Again
By Christine O’Donnell
St. Martin’s Press, 2011
345 pages, $25.99
To order: St. Martin’s Press