Tea Party candidates are supposed to love the Constitution. Christine O’Donnell displayed a shocking ignorance of the First Amendment in a debate with opponent Chris Coons on Tuesday.
I’m not the world’s biggest political wonk. A few months ago a co-worker actually shocked me by asking me the question, “Do you know who wrote the Declaration of Independence?” I fudged some answer about how it was a collective effort. Nope. Thomas Jefferson wrote it over a weekend. Some of the other guys edited it once he was through.
I wouldn’t expect you to hold it against me that I didn’t know the answer. But, you know, I’m not running for Senate.
Yesterday D+T Andrew Belonsky wrote a piece on why Meghan McCain is wrong about Christine O’Donnell, in which he argued that the greatness of American democracy is that anyone can run for office—not just the elite. I think most of us would probably agree with that. But when those anyones show up at a debate and display a total pedestrian ignorance of Constitutional facts, they probably deserve to lose the election.
“The First Amendment does?” O’Donnell asked during the Tuesday morning debate. “Let me just clarify: You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?”
Coons responded by quoting the relevant text: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
“That’s in the First Amendment?” a still skeptical O’Donnell replied smiling, as laughter could be heard from the crowd.”
Writes Wonkette, “‘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.”
Are people being mean to Christine O’Donnell by gawking at her ignorance here? Maybe, but as we pointed out yesterday with Maureen Dowd’s ineffective “Mean Girls” column, mean in politics reads as a good thing. It weeds out those not qualified to hold office.
Christine O’Donnell is clearly familiar with the other provision of the First Amendment, the one that guarantees the right to free speech, making it so that anyone can say any damn thing they please—things such as “I would have become a Hari Krishna but I love meatballs,” or claiming witchcraft powers, or claiming her movement would be able to convince all unmarried people in the country to stop having sex.
The point stands: whether she knows its finer points or not, Christine O’Donnell can run for office saying whatever the hell she likes. Whether that should award her a Senate seat is another matter altogether.