Monday, March 19, 2012

“Troublemaker”: A Profile in Class, Character and Lessons Learned

By Mary Claire Kendall  

On September 14, 2010, the night of her Republican Senate primary win in Delaware, Christine O’Donnell reveals in her book, Troublemaker, President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden called her Republican opponent to offer their condolences, affirming her case regarding the “establishment” insider power club.  Over the summer O’Donnell was besting her Democratic opponent in the polls. Voters chose a winner.

Her prospects dimmed in the early, whirlwind days of her general election campaign after the “I’m not a witch” ad went viral within minutes of its release by the New York Times.  “Somehow,” she writes, “this ridiculous commercial had been slipped to the media.” Somehow?

She told her ad maker, Fred Davis, she didn’t like the ad and didn’t want to make it.  And, in what has got to be the biggest lesson learned, she didn’t do what Mitt Romney famously said he likes to do—fire him!  As Mark McKinnon, President George W. Bush’s media consultant said, when asked to comment: “If a candidate can’t control their consultant, they shouldn’t run for office.”  Tough but true, yet seemingly unthinkable. Davis also made ads for Senator John Cornyn, Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

But in losing, she won—as she sets forth in this compelling, delightful and inspiring account that tells who she is:  A class act, full of character and heart with a gift for communicating and a deep and abiding belief in the core, foundational principles upon which our nation was founded—rooted in the rights and dignity of man.

Her storytelling powers are impressive. 

The second youngest of six children, Christine Therese O’Donnell was born in 1969 during the summer of Woodstock and the Moon landing, to a family that’s the typical, American melting pot of hardworking immigrants—in her case, Irish, English and Italian. Her paternal grandmother is believed to be descended from the longest living signer of the Declaration of Independence, John Carroll.

Her heart for the underdog shines through early when, at age 6, it was her turn to choose the family Christmas tree. She selected a scrawny little tree she thought no one else would pick.

She also learned forgiveness and survival early on—especially on a family trip to Florida to visit her estranged grandfather. The visit went so well, they were soon packing him up for the trip back north, but forgot 10-year old Christine.  Hours later, upon their return, there she was, busily selling the backyard tree’s residuals.

Her family, she writes, had its struggles. Her father mirroring his father, succumbed to alcoholism but with the love and honesty of his family, was able to dig out of that hole and become, as she writes, the person he was meant to be. 

It was in college that O’Donnell was utterly transformed when a friend educated her about the life of a pre-born baby.  An activist was born.

From that spark, one opportunity led to another—on the 1992 George H.W. Bush campaign, then the RNC, working for Chairman Haley Barbour, then Concerned Women for America, followed by The Savior’s Alliance for Lifting the Truth, where she recommitted herself to Jesus.

O’Donnell’s growing media presence led to appearances on Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect—where she uttered those famous three little words “dabbled in witchcraft” (i.e., dated a guy briefly and read about what he was into). Her role then was connecting with her peers, many of whom more than dabbled. 

Then she started her own Washington-based media consulting business.

About this time, her “Grandmom Chillano” was dying of Alzheimers.  This, she writes, is when she became an adult—taking charge to organize her siblings to share the burden of helping their Grandmom at night.  On her shift, her Grandmom stood up on her bed all tense over being late for her job, putting tags on dresses—her first job.  Christine, as the daytime caregiver counseled her, did not try to contradict her view of reality but rather started singing a song to her—one she remembered singing when she would attend mass with her as a little girl—that calmed her down.

Grandmom Chillano had taught her valuable lessons.  “Class,” she told her “is about character, not money… Doing the right thing and treating others with respect is not something you can buy.”

After O’Donnell moved to Delaware, friends and acquaintances started to see in her a U.S. Senate candidate. First dismissing it out of hand, she soon thought, why not!

In 2006, with little time left, she managed to mount a fairly successful write-in campaign.  In 2008, she won the primary then lost to Senator Joe Biden, who was also running for Vice President. He relinquished his seat only after being sworn in as Vice President. In 2010, she ran, winning the primary and a Romney endorsement—a favor she returned in 2011 by endorsing him; but, she lost the general when the “establishment” carpet bombed her.

In 2011, as she writes beautifully in Chapter 11, she found it in her heart to forgive all the nasty tactics, deployed by even those in her own party!  She had a lot to forgive. 

Before she ran in 2008, she was warned if she did so, she’d be totally destroyed. The day after she announced, she and some family members received audit notices. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.  The thuggery continued in 2010. And, predictably, her Democratic opponent, now Senator Chris Coons, twisted her comments, especially those made at the CNN debate, regarding “separation of church and state” and the first amendment.  She sets that record straight, laying out what Thomas Jefferson, who first used the phrase, intended, in contrast to how it’s been perverted; but the media failed to report these facts.

All the dust having settled, she continues to fight the good fight—with the help of her newfound Catholic faith, one thing she does not write about in her book.  (A feature on her faith journey will be published in next week’s edition of The Wanderer.)

Whether she runs again, or finds another avenue for her passion and talent, O’Donnell will continue making a difference in changing hearts. And, isn’t that after all the overarching goal?  For, if you change laws without changing hearts, it’s an incomplete victory.

Originally published in The Wanderer, March 15, 2012 issue

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