Bewitched: O’Donnell on the Constitution

Now this is my type of debate. An alleged “bearded Marxist” debating an alleged “former witch” about the 17th amendment. You can imagine me wolfing down popcorn in feverish excitement while watching the debate of Delaware Republican Senate Candidate Christine O’Donnell and Democratic opponent Chris Coons.

O’Donnell was ridiculed for her apparent lack of knowledge of the Constitution last night. Now, hold on to your chair, I am about to defend . . . partially.

The first exchange to produce laughs was when she asked Coons “Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?”

That particular question does not necessary show a lack of understanding of the Constitution. Many conservative activists have argued that the Constitution was never intended to create a “wall of separation” between Church and State. Indeed, the language of a “wall of separation” is not in the Constitution. It came from Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter to the committee of the Danbury Baptist Association that reads:

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between Church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

O’Donnell may have been thinking of the “wall” debate in asking Coons, “The First Amendment does? . . . Let me just clarify: You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?”

Coons correctly responds with a reference to the establishment clause: “Government shall make no establishment of religion.”
O’Donnell then asks “That’s in the First Amendment…?” Yup.

Coons also correct to again ask O’Donnell about her views on evolution after she appeared to question the separation of church and state. If there is no such separation in her view, it magnifies the importance of her purported view that evolutionary theories are invalid. I have previously written a column about the right of the media to press candidates on their faith when they run in part on faith-based politics.

O’Donnell clearly had trouble on the other amendments. She was asked if she would repeal the 14th, 16th, or 17th Amendments if elected.

“The 17th Amendment I would not repeal” but then asked a person in the audience to explain what the 14th and 16th amendments were, adding “I’m sorry, I didn’t bring my Constitution with me.” I can certainly understand not recalling that the 16th amendment deals with the apportionment of taxes — not exactly a hot button amendment for most people. I can even understand gapping on the 17th on the direct election of Senators. But the 14th is a . . . well . . . a biggy after the whole Civil War thing.

The gap on the 14th was particularly embarrassing after O’Donnell accused Coons of constitutional ignorance by remarking “perhaps they didn’t teach you Constitutional law at Yale Divinity School.”

Now, I want to emphasize that O’Donnell is not expressing hostility to Yale Divinity School because she is a witch. She denies she is a witch. I am still a bit unsure why going to Yale Divinity School is a put down. I would think you would want a suspected bearded Marxist to go to divinity school, particularly after you just criticized him for attacking churches in the same debate. One thing is clear. The Delaware election should never end. For constitutional scholars, this is the best reality show on TV.

Source: CBS

Jonathan Turley

416 thoughts on “Bewitched: O’Donnell on the Constitution”

  1. Byron,

    Well we’ve seen what decreasing regulations have gotten us so far and it sucks. Your position only leads to more suckiness because it 1) cuts tax revenues preventing much need infrastructure building and maintenance and 2) increases social discord by further stratifying by people by income. Income disparity in extremis has only started a few rebellions in history. And by few, I mean most. Ask the French, the Russians, and oh yeah, the Colonials – don’t forget the Revolution started over unjust taxes and a remote consolidated and unresponsive power in governance. People rebel when they have nothing left to loose. Your stance on economics guarantees there will be many more people with nothing left to loose.

  2. Byron,

    Your well paid workers won’t be able to protect you when the thousands of underpaid workers storm your place of business
    during the revolution.

  3. “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” (Buddha)

    Sure you can, now … if you’re willing to lose your head, later.

  4. Byron,

    Taxes help the guy down the street by paying for small, unimportant things, you know, like streets and waste water processing and schools.

    You’re a good guy, but your take on economics and sociology are ass backwards. Without government there is anarchy and without taxes there is no public infrastructure.

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  5. Elaine:

    I am, I will always believe that limited government and free markets are the only way to keep people prosperous. And I will always believe that government should help people only as a last resort.

    Government cannot support those people for very long. You need a prosperous economy where people take risk to create wealth which translates to job creation as well.

    But I do see your point and I understand you cannot pay your bills on $10-15 hour. But you could pay some and have the government pick up the rest for necessities.

    But how is taxing the neighbor’s 401k plan going to help the guy down the street? It ends up hurting everyone.

  6. Mespo/Buddha/Blouise:

    Certainly there are Scrooges but if you have half a brain for business you pay your people well and take care of them. Bob Cratchit was too distracted to really do his job properly. After Scrooge’s epiphany, I imagine his bottom line improved.

    I am also aware of the stratification but I attribute it to a diminishment of the free market. The Soviet Union was stratified as well, with a few doing well at the top. So my take is that less collectivism will reduce stratification.

    And no it wasn’t a joke question. There are many romantic authors, I don’t think Dickens was one of them. Wuthering Heights yes, Oliver Twist maybe.

  7. Blouise,

    I doubt it was a “joke” question to Byron. I didn’t laugh–I just shook my head.



    No one’s cutting lawns in my neck of the woods at this time of year. A lot of people today are painting their own homes and doing odd jobs themselves because they can’t afford to hire someone else to do it.

    You can’t compare a student working to earn money while he’s in school to someone working to earn a living to support a family, pay for a mortgage, car and home insurance, medical bills, electric/oil/gas bills, etc.

    Byron, I do think you may be a lost cause.

  8. Byron,

    Now you’re sounding like Blanche DuBois.

    “Whoever you are, I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

    That’s a foolish reliance.

    Strangers are rarely kind and usually indifferent. Empathy is not just a product intellectual or emotional acceptance of a problem, but its related to proximity and exposure as well.

  9. Elaine:

    I don’t like unemployment and have empathy for people who are out of work, it must really suck. But there are other ways to make money than to work for someone. Even if actual unemployment is 17% at least 5-6% of that is the perpetually unemployed who would not be working in any economy.

    And as far as being underemployed? Why does anyone deserve to be employed to their full capacity? If you have a PhD and cant find a job go cut lawns or work at McDonalds, it is honest work and would probably be temporary.

    When I was in school in the early 80’s prior to Reagan’s economic policies being implemented, I used to put fliers on people’s doors to do odd jobs-cutting lawns, painting, etc. I had all the work I could handle and at a pretty good rate, usually $10-15/hour. I think the minimum wage back then was around $2-3/hour.

    Rely on your own resources and abilities first, then charity, then government as a last resort.

  10. Byron
    1, November 3, 2010 at 11:10 am

    I hate Dickens, I read a tale of 2 cities and that was enough for me.

    But how does a 19th century English author writing about a very stratified Victorian culture have anything to do with a dynamic 21st century society?


    That was a “joke” question, right?

  11. Byron:

    “I hate Dickens.”

    I would too if I took your positions. Great writers honestly display the human condition regardless of time and place. Dickens’ insight into the human heart are just a valid today as they were in 19th Century London or Paris.

  12. Byron,

    If you don’t think our society is stratified and becoming more so every day by the machinations of the corporatists and the kleptocrats, then you aren’t paying attention to the news.

  13. Mespo:

    I hate Dickens, I read a tale of 2 cities and that was enough for me.

    But how does a 19th century English author writing about a very stratified Victorian culture have anything to do with a dynamic 21st century society?

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