Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell made headlines last week when she confessed to having "dabbled in witchcraft." She claimed it was merely a foolish and "youthful indiscretion." The talking heads passed it off as a lame attempt to pander to the Harry Potter vote. But O'Donnell's casual dismissal of her "Girls Gone Wiccan" past is simply par for the political course. You'd be hard-pressed to find a public figure who hasn't at one time or another chalked up a potentially devastating mistake to being "young and irresponsible."
As a self-identified young person, I might be offended by the easy characterization of my age group as naïve and mistake prone. Aside from a few credit-card maxing adventures to Trader Joe's -- who isn't crazy for organic snack food and low prices? -- I hardly live on the wild side of my twenties. As I say on my jDate profile, I enjoy historical fiction, podcasts, and abiding by the law.
But all this talk from our most popular politicians about the joys of their younger days living on the edge has got me thinking: are my own aspirations for public office hampered by the things I'm not doing? Do I need to pad my resume with some more nut butter and crazy jam?
All of my most favorite political heroes celebrated their youth as outlaws, reveling in bad behavior and illicit activities long before they became principled men of law. Even our country's founders, those wigged giants of democracy, were far from guileless. Thomas Jefferson was one of our most famous Commander-in-Cheats. An insatiable gambler, the President swindled his way through more than a few rounds of backgammon ("We'll play by Thomas rules, or we won't play at all!"). Astute students of history will know that electricity wasn't Ben Franklin's only hallucination; nor was it a "great coincidence" that pyromaniac James Madison was sitting President when the White House burned down.
While those are tall tales I've only just invented to make writing this more interesting, don't doubt that our more modern politicians had their own days of hair-raising fun. Presidential loser Barry Goldwater allegedly had a tribal tattoo above his wrist-- dots and a half-crescent to remind him of a boyhood spent playing Cowboys and Indians and chasing communists out of the trees in his backyard. At prep school, George W. Bush achieved high status and popularity as head cheerleader. And let's not forget that the outgoing Governor of California was once a cyborg assassin, a machine-gun toting robot with the stated goal of "terminating" mankind!
Now that Starbucks offers free wi-fi with their vanilla lattes, no secret is internet-safe. It takes any savvy web browser just a few clicks to discover a supreme court nominee's embarrassingly "radical" college thesis, or view Mass. Senator Scott Brown's centerfold. In this technology ruled age, no skeleton can stay in any closet for long, nor can any studly statesman stay in his clothes. You can't filibuster abs like that.
Of late, it's been very much in vogue to beat up on the young. Whether it's The New York Times wondering how wayward millenials can be so misguided and unemployed, or any other dour news magazine questioning the real worth of a hard-earned college degree, this age-ism is pervasive. The "young and irresponsible" are the subject of seemingly endless scrutiny and skepticism.
But as these politicians attest, those who reach the top offices of this country, those in the center of what's happening, weren't the ones that spent their entire lives peanut farming in Georgia. (With rare, Jimmy Carter shaped exception). They were the ones who risked misadventure, and embarrassment, who dabbled in this, and cast a few spells in that, and by and large weren't afraid to be unwise.
We could learn a thing or two from Christine O'Donnell. Not about health care, or economic recovery, or any other important fact-based policy issue, perhaps. But the spunky Delawarean certainly is a role model for experimental young living.
As for myself, I don't know what kind of trouble I'll get into these next ten years or however long it is that I can stay on my parent's health insurance. Maybe I'll couch-surf around the world, or join a cult, or star in an online music video with little guy rapper Lil P-nut. A girl can dream. But whatever I decide, I know there's virtually nothing I could do now that I won't be able to back away from, misrepresent, or shirk responsibility for later. I've got the tried and true excuse of being young and indiscretion-able.
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