The claim that, in her youth, Delaware senate candidate Christine O’Donnell “dabbled into witchcraft” has made headlines for a variety of reasons, not least of which is the strange way O’Donnell herself has chosen to respond to—and therefore highlight—this claim, made offhand in a 1999 episode of Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect.
O’Donnell’s response has ranged from a campaign television spot that opens with the declaration “I am not a witch” to an appearance on ABC’s Good Morning America where, at the interview’s end, O’Donnell laughingly said she would dress as the Wizard of Oz’s Dorothy this Halloween, saying “kill the witch.”
The would-be senator’s experience in her dabbling days, as she describes it, is of going on a date with some sort of witch; a night that began with a movie and ended with “a little picnic on a satanic altar [where] there was a little blood there and stuff like that.” This absurd “picnic” exemplifies the larger absurdities of the campaign, absurdities made more cringe-worthy because they relate directly to the job she’s running for. In a recent televised debate, for instance, O’Donnell made clear her unfamiliarity with the First Amendment, pressing the point in a series of questions and then quipping: “I’m sorry I didn’t bring my Constitution with me. Fortunately senators don’t have to memorize the Constitution.”
The use of humor as a defensive tactic is something O’Donnell resorts to frequently (as with her repeated and aggressive questions about where, precisely, in the Constitution the separation of church and state is mentioned), but it more often succeeds in deepening a problem than distracting from it. Consider her statement, at a campaign event, that “There’s been no witchcraft since” the picnic, and “if there was, Karl Rove would be a supporter now.” Rove, who has categorized some of O’Donnell’s public comments as “nutty,” might well feel the same about the logic behind this joke.
For those of us interested in religion, the strange midnight picnic becomes a site for untangling confusions about religious practice and religious terms.
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