Isaac Chotiner and James Downie are both appalled by Christine O’Donnell’s view that lying is always wrong, even if you’re lying to hide Anne Frank from the SS. I agree that this is an odd precept, but it seems worth observing that O’Donnell does have Immanuel Kant on her side and he specifically tackles the “murderer at the door” case in his essay “On a Supposed Right to Lie From Altruistic Motives.” You can see Christine Korsgaard’s “The Right to Lie: Kant on Dealing With Evil” (PDF) for a sympathetic treatment of the Kant/O’Donnell viewpoint.
I would further add that from a Christian perspective, I don’t think the Kantian view is all that problematic. When you lie you’re doing something wrong, and you’re not really serving any kind of greater good because the sin still exists in the heart of the murderer and for the truly innocent death is only a small penalty as it brings you closer to God. I take it that most nominally Christian people in America (of which I am not one) reject this line of argument, but that mostly goes to show that people tend not to fully think through doctrines of heaven and hell to which they’re formally committed.
A perhaps more interesting take on O’Donnell comes from Michelle Goldberg who observes that the “Mama Grizzly” phenomenon isn’t really all that new and women have long played an important role in the populist conservative grassroots essentially because they’re best-positioned to undertake a performance of traditional family values. The paradox, of course, is that once you’re doing this performance for a mass audience you’ve negated the underlying conceit:
In a 1995 New Republic article about the new crop of right-wing women representatives, Vern Smith, Linda Smith’s husband, explained, “One of the reasons we got into politics, we wanted to preserve some of the traditional lifestyle we’d grown up with. It’s funny, with Linda away, we end up sacrificing some of that traditional family life to pass on some of that heritage to our children.”
As it turns out, many smart, ambitious conservative women don’t enjoy the traditional lifestyle much at all. Beverly LaHaye, the founder of Concerned Women for America, where Christine O’Donnell worked during the 1990s, is archetypical in this regard. In The Spirit Controlled Woman—the same book in which she asserts “Submission is God’s design for women”—LaHaye writes that as a young housewife, she felt insecure, unfulfilled, and afraid to speak in public. “After all,” she asked, “who wants to hear what a young woman has to say whose only accomplishments in life were having four successful pregnancies and keeping a clean house?” By becoming an anti-feminist activist, LaHaye was able to escape the kind of dull misery and ennui that Betty Friedan identified in The Feminist Mystique.
O’Donnell is just the apotheosis of this trend, “an anti-gay activist with a lesbian sister … a family-values champion who is single, childless, and sharing a house with a man.” I would only add to Goldberg’s insights that there’s perhaps a connection here to an even older legacy of religiously-inspired women’s political activism in America that’s associated with the temperance movement, campaigns against prostitution, and other kinds of moral reform.