Given the magnitude of ignorance displayed by most Tea-Party candidates and supporters, it is somewhat surprising when relatively minor gaffes — such as the one seen yesterday when Delaware Republican Senate candidate, Christine O’Donnell revealed her ignorance of the First Amendment — suddenly cause an indignant stir. In a debate with Democratic candidate, Chris Coons, O’Donnell was trying to make the point (arguably more offensively ignorant than her obliviousness to Constitutional content) that Intelligent Design, somehow distinguished from Creationism in her mind, is a theory at least on par with that of Evolution, and that it should be within the rights of any public school-board to teach this mythology at the expense of Biology. To insinuate Science upon our school-boards would be, according to O’Donnell, “imposing your beliefs on the local schools,” which flies in the face of “indispensable principles” established by the Founding Fathers.
Coons interjected, “”One of those indispensable principles is the separation of church and state.”
“Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?” O’Donnell shot back.
The crowd laughed in disbelief. Worse, O’Donnell clearly seemed to feel that they were laughing with her, not at her, as she continued her descent.
“The First Amendment establishes the separation, the fact that the federal government shall not establish religion,” Coons explained.
“The First Amendment does?” O’Donnell pressed incredulously. “You’re telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?”
Unfortunately for her, the audience was a collection of legal scholars and law students at Widener University Law School, where the debate was being hosted, thus their laughter at her non-existent grasp of Constitutional Law.
In fact, for some time now, GOP theocratic faithful have been ranting that the precise phrase “separation of Church and State” does not appear in the constitution in an effort to discredit the term as short-hand for the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment which states: “”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. These very rants are surely what O’Donnell had in mind when she seems to have determined that the very concept of separation of Church and State has no derivation from the Constitution. The argument was stupid from the start, and the pundits who point incessantly to this lack of exact phrasing in an effort to suggest further erosion of the Church/State divide are no less deserving of mockery than the hapless and overwhelmed Republican Senate candidate in Delaware.
Given the ubiquity of the not-in-the-constitution argument regarding the phrase “separation of Church and State”, and the raw magnitude of tactless and uneducated/miseducated rhetoric that has spewed forth from GOP and Tea Party candidates in recent times, O’Donnell’s remarks might well have passed unnoticed to the media at large, I feel, had it not been for the laughter that her ignorance provoked amongst legal scholars. Had it not been for their laughter, pundits, taking a stance of “objectivity”, would have felt obligated to attribute merit to her witlessness, or ignore it entirely.
Debate hasn’t worked to promote self-reflection in the middle-American faithful. Revelations of naked hypocrisy haven’t deterred them from their faux-revolutionary corporate shill candidates. They don’t understand the issues, and they don’t want to. They’re motivated at a base, atavistic level that only reacts to emotional catch-phrases and fiery sound-bites. It may be that the only way to confront them is to stop pretending that they are engaging the world in an intellectual debate. Stop pretending that there is some educated and concerned core in the center of all this nebulous buffoonery.
It may be that the best way in which to handle the Tea Party is to openly point and laugh.
Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/douglas_mesner
Follow my blog: http://dysgenicsreport.blogspot.com/