Oct 20, 2010

O'Donnell Pleads the First

Lots of things jump out here, but I want to focus on the first amendment.

When Coons quoted (well, he mangled the quote in the heat of the moment but the gist was correct) the actual text of the first amendment, she gave a sardonic reply--'That's in the Constitution?'--and started laughing.  Does she just not know the text?

My brother's explanation for this is interesting and perhaps correct:
The video of the debate really does indicate that O'Donnell was confused; I suspect that she was expecting Coons to say that the phrase "separation of church and state" was in the constitution, and had a killer comeback ready. When she thought he had said it - she delivered. Which indicates more a failure of stagecraft than a total ignorance of the first amendment.
We're talking about someone who thought it was a good idea to inform people that she wasn't a witch and who has gone on record against masturbation, after all.


The phrase 'separation of church and state' refers to a concept.  That concept IS enshrined in the constitution in the words that Coons (mis)quoted in the little exchange starting around the 7:00 mark.  By way of analogy, we might refer to the phrase 'jus soli'.  The phrase is nowhere to be found in the constitution.  The concept to which it refers, however, is enshrined in the 14th amendment.

'Jus soli' is the term for one of the things that the 14th amendment does. 'Separation of church and state' is the term for one of the things that the first amendment does.

O'Donnell, however, repeatedly denied that separation of church and state was in the constitution.  By way of another analogy, it demonstrates the level of cognitive ability and honesty that would be reflected in someone who said that the constitution doesn't say that people can own guns and then defended the remark on the basis that those words aren't to be found in the constitution.  Christine O'Donnell repeating that bit about it not being found in the constitution is roughly the same level.

It's like Biblical fundamentalism: pedantic literalism leading inexorably to a deeply illiterate reading of the text.

You've got a lady who--among so many, many other things--badly misunderstands one of the founding principles of our government (or else she's lying, but that's worse).  Now, if that were the only problem, you could remedy it by teaching civics instead of the creationism that she's trying to defend, but that's not the only problem.

The problem is that she won the Republican nomination for senate and that thousands of people want her in that office.  Yet another crackpot running for office is one thing, but she's become a symbol--one of many, but an icon nonetheless--to an entire demographic, a political movement hundreds of thousands if not millions strong for whom O'Donnell isn't an idiot but a hero, and those folks are actively trying to remake America in their own image.


  1. I find it deeply troubling that someone running for public office lacks even basic civil knowledge.

  2. Call me overly dramatic, but there's a part of me that's really scared that enough of these types will win and religious freedom will go out the window.

    Don't get me wrong, it wouldn't stop me from believing what I believe. I'd just prefer to not be stoned for it.