Tuesday, October 19, 2010

O'Donnell shocks audience with having read at least part of Constitution

Christine O'Donnell had a campus debate with her Democratic opponent:
"Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?" an incredulous O'Donnell asks her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons. The audience is heard laughing in the background. "Let me just clarify, you're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?"

"Government shall make no establishment of religion," Coons responds.

"That's in the First Amendment," O'Donnell says.
O'Donnell is, of course, correct; the First Amendment does not say "separation of church and state."

She's weaker on the later amendments however:
Later, O'Donnell was asked if she would support repealing the 14th, 16th and 17th amendments. She knew the 17th Amendment, but could not remember the others. "I'm sorry, I didn't bring my Constitution with me… Fortunately, senators don't have to memorize the Constitution. Remind me of what the other ones are."
It's good she knew the 17th, since it's why she has even a snowball's chance in hell of becoming a U.S. senator.

The AP story gives some amusing commentary:
Her comments, in a debate aired on radio station WDEL, generated a buzz in the audience.

"You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp," Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone said after the debate, adding that it raised questions about O'Donnell's grasp of the Constitution.
Political scientists don't have to memorize the Constitution either, I gather.

This will be all over the conservative blogs as a "gotcha." Rightly so, I'm afraid.

... The Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause does amount to "a separation of church and state." Cutter v. Wilkinson, 544 U.S. 709, 719 (2005) (Ginsburg, J.). Justice Thomas's concurrence in that case disagrees:
Congress need not observe strict separation between church and state, or steer clear of the subject of religion. It need only refrain from making laws “respecting an establishment of religion”; it must not interfere with a state establishment of religion.
So O'Donnell should not be any more, or less, shocking than Clarence Thomas.


  1. I don't think her answer is better than his, if we're talking about the source of the legal requirement of separation (whether total or not). But ignorance of the 14th amendment should be completely disqualifying.

  2. The debate is actually far, far weirder than the account you link. I've been listening. The first question sets up Griswold (with which she agrees) and Roe. Her opponent points out that agreeing with Griswold and disagreeing with Roe is inconsistent. She then disagrees with a right to privacy but continues to agree with Griswold.

    The first amendment stuff came up in the context of the teaching of creationism. She says separation of church and state is not in the first amendment. I think she's probably heard this assertion from Christian right folks, but hasn't ever thought to read the first amendment to see what's there. Later on, more or less out of the blue, she brings it up again and seems surprised with what her opponent says the first amendment says (at 19:00)

    O'Donnell: Let me just clarify. you're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the first amendment.

    Coon: government shall make no establishment of religion.

    O'Donnell: That's in the first amendment. [you are going to have to listen to the inflection there. I think she's... not certain]

    For lagniappe, listen to her smug flirtation little laugh after the next questioner says something about both of them being independent thinkers.

    In some ways, she's a lot better vending this crap than Sarah Palin. James Fallows has spoken interestingly on her as a creation of talk tv.

  3. I think you can distinguish Griswold if you think a fetus is a person.

    I like your disqualification criterion, Charley, tho I wonder how many senators we would lose that way.

    She *is* smoother than Palin (cuter, too). Lucky for us she has more of a paper (video?) trail. Which she will augment after she becomes a regular Fox guest as a genuine major-party nominee for the Senate.