O’Donnell’s views on social issues are more interesting than her critics say

On the other hand, in those pre-AIDS cocktail days, the standard message was that there was no such thing as totally safe sex, protected or not, and that it was only a matter of time before the disease ravaged the non-IV-drug-using heterosexual population. The free-for-all that baby boomers had enjoyed was over; the sex-positive, “Girls Gone Wild” sensibility of the millennials was years away. People were still getting it on, of course. But somehow it didn’t quite feel like a “getting it on” kind of culture.

Amid that gloom and apprehension, O’Donnell carved out the belief system that is now perplexing so much of the nation. Halfway through college, she’s told reporters, she quit drinking and having sex, left the Roman Catholic Church for evangelical Christianity and became a vocal opponent of pornography, homosexuality and, for good measure, masturbation. The not-so-hidden message is that she’s indulged in none of these things in two decades and is a better person for it.

Most Gen Xers, of course, have recovered just fine from the sexual disquiet of the peak years of the AIDS crisis. O’Donnell, obviously, is an outlier who could well have developed these views no matter what year she was born. But before we chalk her up as a Palin redux, or as interchangeable with other members of the “tea party,” we’d do well to consider the ways in which her membership in another relatively small, occasionally misunderstood cohort might make her ever so slightly more interesting than the cartoon-character “right-wing babe” that many are now assuming her to be.