Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 19, 2010

QUOTE OF THE DAY.... One of the odd rhetorical labels that's popped up in recent years is "constitutional conservative." Its meaning can vary a bit, but it's generally used by far-right zealots who believe fealty to the Constitution requires eliminating most of the American political advances of the 20th century.

But there are a few problems with these folks' ideology. For one thing, "constitutional conservatives" don't seem especially interesting in conserving the Constitution -- they've talked about repealing or altering several existing constitutional amendments, and then adding plenty of new ones.

For another, some of these "constitutional conservatives" don't seem to have any idea what's in the Constitution they claim to revere. Take last night's debate in Delaware, for example, between Chris Coons (D) and Christine O'Donnell (R).

Coons said private and parochial schools are free to teach creationism but that "religious doctrine doesn't belong in our public schools."

"Where in the Constitution is the separation of church and state?" O'Donnell asked him.

When Coons responded that the First Amendment bars Congress from making laws respecting the establishment of religion, O'Donnell asked: "You're telling me that's in the First Amendment?"

Did I mention that the debate was held in a law school?

Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone told the AP afterwards, "You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp" among those in attendance.

Erin Daly, an expert in constitutional law at Widener, added, "She seemed genuinely surprised that the principle of separation of church and state derives from the First Amendment, and I think to many of us in the law school that was a surprise."

It's only a surprise if one assumes that the Republican Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate is a functioning, coherent adult.

For the record, the first 16 words of the First Amendment read, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Thomas Jefferson said the Founding Fathers adopted this language, "thus building a wall of separation between church and state."

The right has been trying to take a sledgehammer to that wall for quite a while, but thankfully, it's still standing, Christine O'Donnell's ridiculous worldview notwithstanding.

Steve Benen 12:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (37)

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As far as I can tell, "Constitutional conservatives" only respect the constitution as it applies to them. For example, all the attacks on Acorn and now the Tides Foundation (along with every other liberal organization) are nothing less than a vile attack on our constitutional right of free assembly.

The new hypocrisy, just like the old hypocrisy...

Posted by: Six_of_One on October 19, 2010 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

It's only a surprise if one assumes that the Republican Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate is a functioning, coherent adult.

I sincerely believe that CO'D has some kind of clinical disconnect from reality, she may even mildly retarded in some way

Posted by: Jim on October 19, 2010 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

And presumably that is why we are not all practicing Wiccans.

Posted by: Terry on October 19, 2010 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

I just mentioned the episode to one of my employees. He gasped as well, but he did graduate from the Michigan Law School.

Maybe law schools should start teaching 2nd Amendment methods for defending the constitution from dittoheads.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 19, 2010 at 12:39 PM | PERMALINK

Teabaggers know as much about the Constitution as they know about the Bible -- that is, less than nothing, as all of what they think they know is actually wrong.

But we're in a realm where logic does not apply, knowledge is resented, education is sneered at and facts are the same as opinions.

As pointed out earlier, these people have always been with us, but never before have they had so much money behind them as well as the support of a major media empire.

Posted by: Gummo on October 19, 2010 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

Ecce sanctus

Ah Saint Gidget...
Leveraging her University of Phoenix education in high places again...
Turning common knowledge into liberal fodder...

Posted by: koreyel on October 19, 2010 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

Well, if she were smart she'd point out that the First Amendment says congress shall make no laws establishing religon and she's talking about local school boards and that the purpose of the establishment clause was to prevent congress from establishing a national religon, which she is not in favor of, and at the time of the writing of the Constitution most of the states had strate religons. Need smarter conservatives.

Posted by: Jose Padilla on October 19, 2010 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

So, you are attempting to say it was Christine's fault her Home School Coven had to cut their Con-Law instructor due to budget restraints?

Posted by: berttheclock on October 19, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

If you concentrate, and believe hard enough that something doesn't exist ... then it doesn't exist. Right?

This just shows that O'Donnell spends her time and research reading tracts claiming that the separation of church and state is a liberal conspiracy and a myth ... then she does reading the text of the actual Constitution.

But really, we ought to give O'Donnell some slack. This is a volume issue. It is tough keeping up with that deluge of right-wing chain e-mails and talk-radio rants and religious sermons about what the Constitution says and doesn't say. There is just so much wisdom out there to absorb! Doesn't leave any time left for reading old, fusty documents that are hard to understand anyway ...

But then again, given their stress on some odd choices in Biblical interpretation, I don't think some of these self-proclaimed Christian warrior candidates read the original text of the Bible very closely either. They would rather be told what it says by someone else.

Faith ... politics ... citizenship ... running for office. Same approach.

Posted by: Bokonon on October 19, 2010 at 12:55 PM | PERMALINK

Like Jose says, this is just an example of her losing the thread. It's something Christian rightists always say: "the separation of church and state" isn't in the Constitution; only the "establishment" bit is specifically forbidden, and from there you're supposed to say that church and state can be mixed as a matter of policy just as long as the government stops short of establishing an official state religion. But O'Donnell only remembered that the "separation" language isn't in the Constitution, and she forgot to say the rest of it, if she ever did know it.

Posted by: FlipYrWhig on October 19, 2010 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

It should be noted, even at this belated juncture in the political dialogue, that Christine O'Donnell is not, as many would believe, a "Constitutional Conservative," but rather a "Constipational Conservative"---thus denoting a blockage of "excretionary proportions" between the connecting ends of those few quasi-functioning synapses she still legitimately holds in her possession.

Well, at least this is how William F. Buckley might have gone about calling O'Donnell a "sh*t-for-brains twit"....

Posted by: S. Waybright on October 19, 2010 at 1:05 PM | PERMALINK

"Functioning coherent adult"?

What percentage of the United States include these functioning coherent adults?

By your definition, I would guess it would be less then half of adults.

Posted by: DR on October 19, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Not just Jefferson's famous "wall of separation," let's also hear from the Author of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights* (*which he initially opposed being added):

"The civil Government, though bereft of everything like an associated hierarchy, possesses the requisite stability, and performs its functions with complete success, whilst the number, the industry, and the morality of the priesthood, and the devotion of the people, have been manifestly increased by the total separation of the church from the State." - James Madison (Letter to Robert Walsh, Mar. 2, 1819)

BTW Madison was a Christian (not a Deist like Jefferson and some other drafters and signers).

Posted by: Paris Sailin on October 19, 2010 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

The sad thing is that O'Donnell's statement probably scored points for with certain voters.

Posted by: Stephen on October 19, 2010 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

There's nothing in the Constitution that gives corporations citizenship
That was done by 'activist judges' who 'mis interpreted' the 14th Amendment
Let's get back to 'Strict Constructionism' of the Constitutional

Posted by: Frisco on October 19, 2010 at 1:33 PM | PERMALINK
It's something Christian rightists always say: "the separation of church and state" isn't in the Constitution; only the "establishment" bit is specifically forbidden

Which, you know, is just as wrong. Its not only the establishment bit that is in the First Amendment. The next clause in the First Amendment after the Establishment Clause is the Free Exercise clause.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 19, 2010 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

Cut her some slack. The constitution doesn't place an educational requirement on Senators. Just age and citizenship.

Posted by: Ron Byers on October 19, 2010 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

(A) I'll stipulate that O'Donnell is an idiot, but as Jose Padilla posted earlier, it's a long-established conservative talking point that the First Amendment's bar on "establishment of religion" should be read as being limited to restricting the Federal government's ability to impose an official national religion, not requiring a separation of church and state. That reading is contrary to about 100+ years of Supreme Court jurisprudence and probably couldn't get more than one or two votes on even the current SCOTUS, but it's not an insane reading of the amendment since that's how it was interpreted for at least the first 40 or 50 years after it was adopted (from independence through the first half of the 19th Century, several states officially sponsored various Christian denominations, had religious tests for public office, etc.).

(b) I'm not clear on why people think it's an extremely clever attack to criticize someone for saying that they support the Constitution, but want to amend it. There's no contradiction between saying, "I think that section X of the Constitution should be interpreted in manner Y," and "I think that sections/amendments A through E of the Constitution are immoral/vague/outdated/misinterpreted by SCOTUS/etc. and a new textual amendment would help remedy that problem."

Posted by: Just Dropping By on October 19, 2010 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

PLEASE, O'Donnell is at least as qualified to be a Senator as Jan Brewer is qualified to be Governor of Arizona and NOBODY is challenging her qualifications. She is even expected to win.

Meanwhile, if some rich and wealthy plutocrats are reading this ... You might want to reconsider the supposed advantages of a less educated population.

1) you have a smaller pool of talent on which to draw. If you think we have a problem with finding qualified doctors, RNs, & engineers now, just wait thirty years when the current crop of boomers is retired or dead. There are fewer Drs and more diseases filtering up from a population which believes more in homeopathic medicine and home remedies rather than traditional science. You will regret not educating the general population.

2) if you have an uneducated population you have a smaller economy. A smaller economy means more people with less spending power. You see signs of that already - thrift stores used to be uncommon now they are everywhere. Less spending power means fewer houses bought, fewer cars purchased, less quality food purchased, less money invested. You will live in a world of second hand goods a world gradually getting poorer.

3) an uneducated population means mob rule. Your elected representatives will be rulers of the mob and you will kowtow to them or thir bosses because they will have the muscle and the guns. Like 1920's Chicago? This is what you will get and FORGET a free press.

Like what you visualize? This is the fate of the US if you continue to support people like O'Donnell.

Oh and did I mention a global warming and a declining economy brought on when all the oil is wasted burning it in cars. If you do not think it will not run out, you are insane. And what are you going to replace it with? Synthetic OIL? Everything from medicine to computers requires oil to make.

So It's your choice. Help build an educated population and be loved and remembered. Or be hated by future generations in the ruins of world you helped create.

Posted by: KurtRex1453 on October 19, 2010 at 2:03 PM | PERMALINK

Just Dropping By: The reason they are deservedly mocked for their self-righteous attitude as defenders of the Constitution is that they are flaming hypocrites. There's nothing inconsistent in saying you want to repeal amendments and pass others to make the Constitution more to your liking unless you're also declaring yourself a defender of the "real" Constitution as intended by the Founders, and insisting that makes your position purer than those who prefer the existing set of amendments.

Posted by: Redshift on October 19, 2010 at 2:07 PM | PERMALINK

Looks like Palin's handlers are still handling O'Donnell. Of course they are all trying to back peddle and will come up with excuses like, "She was being facetious", or "She was just checking to see if Coons knew it".

Posted by: ComradeAnon on October 19, 2010 at 2:08 PM | PERMALINK

Otto: Apes don't read philosophy!
Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don't understand it.

Posted by: Redshift on October 19, 2010 at 2:09 PM | PERMALINK

It's only a surprise if one assumes that the Republican Party's nominee for the U.S. Senate is a functioning, coherent adult.

I sincerely believe that CO'D has some kind of clinical disconnect from reality, she may even mildly retarded in some way

Me, I'm convinced O'Donnell is an adult baby.

Posted by: hells littlest angel on October 19, 2010 at 2:13 PM | PERMALINK

Witchy's comments are being excused by her handler's as "it ISN'T in the Constitution"....it's in the 1st Amendment. Which is so. But not for a moment do I believe that was spooky's thinking on it.
She's just not that sharp.

Posted by: T2 on October 19, 2010 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

The video is up at thinkprogress. It's worth a watch -- it's even more astonishing than the transcript suggests. The first time she says it, the audience actually laughs, and the look on O'Donnell's face is as though she thinks she's scored a point -- she has no idea that they are laughing at her.

Coons, for his part, starts speaking very measuredly about the first amendment *and* the long history of SCOTUS jurisprudence, but she interrupts him a couple times -- till he finally gets fed up and quotes the first amendment back at her, at which point she repeats it again with this tone of "who knew?"

Nowhere is it evident from the video that she might have been headed for an argument of strict interpretation of federal "establishment" -- it's really much more clear that she had no idea what she was talking about.

Posted by: A.D. on October 19, 2010 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Who needs knowledge when you have faith?

And who needs research or facts when you already have formed your faith?

In fact, those things might be dangerous, since they may interfere with the beliefs you have already formed.

Better just to cram your faith down the unbeliever's throats, and MAKE THEM OBEY.

If you are a religious fundamentalist who sees no distinction between politics and the church, isn't that what the pursuit of political power is for, after all?

Say it with a giggle. And a twinkle. And a tee hee. Toss your hair and look pretty for the camera.

Posted by: Bokonon on October 19, 2010 at 2:43 PM | PERMALINK

The phrase "Separation of Church and State" does not appear in the Constitution. The first amendment is here, http://www.house.gov/Constitution/Constitution.html
That phrase first appeared in an 1802 letter from Thomas Jefferson to the Danbury, CT Baptists. It was first used in a Supreme Court case in Reynolds v. United States (1878), ninety-one years after the Constitution was adopted by the convention.

Posted by: Glenn Neal on October 19, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

Christine's campaign manager is named Moran.

Is that too perfect, or what?

Posted by: JPS on October 19, 2010 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

The phrase "Separation of Church and State" does not appear in the Constitution

But the concept was a commonly held one that appears frequently in the writings of the Founders, particularly by Madison in the Federalist Papers, which serves to elucidate the thinking of the drafters of the Constitution. In fact, many of the Founders exhibited a great hostility to clericalism and articulated the idea that churches inevitably corrupt governments if allowed to play a part in them.

Conversely, no where in the Constitution is there even a mention of God or churches, nor is there mention that government and churches are or should be conjoined. Nor is there in this document that lays out the mechanisms by which government will function any mechanism for the union of church and state or description of what role a church should play in the execution of government. So clearly it is not legally, historically, or culturally an idea upon which this country was founded.

Further, the idea of a conjoined church and state would have been a ludicrous idea at the time given the divisive and combative nature of the various Christian sects. There existed great antipathy between Protestant sects and no one sect would have entrusted another with being a government church, much less between Protestants and Catholics. There did not exist at the time this amorphous sense of "church" referred to today by proponents of a union of church and state, which is nothing but an artificial construct of reactionaries seeking to leverage cultural advantage by injecting particular values and ideas into government and claiming some sort of colonial pedigree around it.

Posted by: trex on October 19, 2010 at 4:06 PM | PERMALINK

Two thoughts:

1. Steve, you REALLY need to do a list of these nutcases and their quotes, much like you did with McCain't flip flops.

It'd be a fantastic resource, both before and after the election.

2. If we want to get it into what is or is not EXPLICIT in the Constitution, fine.

But I want to know how the right and their "constitutional conservatives" and "original intent" folks explain away the "blacks as 3/5ths of a person" thing.

After all, if the founders were infallible like the right claims, and all the right wants is for the EXACT WORDS to count, then I'd love for them to go on record reconciling that one.

It's not like they've shown a lot of concern for blacks anyway ...

Posted by: Mark D on October 19, 2010 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

You can't fix stupid or willful ignorance.

Posted by: Winkandanod on October 19, 2010 at 5:08 PM | PERMALINK

"The right has been trying to take a sledgehammer to that wall for quite a while, but thankfully, it's still standing, Christine O'Donnell's ridiculous worldview notwithstanding."

I'd bet there are four votes on the current Supreme Court to "narrow" the McCollum case (the case that held the Establishment Clause applicable to the states). And by narrow I mean reverse.

Posted by: Jose Padilla on October 19, 2010 at 5:31 PM | PERMALINK

Widener University political scientist Wesley Leckrone told the AP afterwards, ‘You actually audibly heard the crowd gasp’ among those in attendance.

Ah, a spontaneous collective recognition of stupidity.

Posted by: Joe Friday on October 19, 2010 at 6:17 PM | PERMALINK
The phrase "Separation of Church and State" does not appear in the Constitution.

True, but irrelevant. The separation of Church and State is effected by the combination of the Free Exercise clause and the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment (with assists from the Speech Clause, and the Assembly Clause) which between them prohibit most of the ways that government could otherwise support, sponsor, favor, disfavor, ban, or direct the religious expression of a Church or individuals, thus separating religious institutions from government.

"Separation of Church and State" isn't a phrase from the Constitution, its short summary of the combined impact of certain provisions of the Constitution.

Posted by: cmdicely on October 19, 2010 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Precisely, cmdicely. (Sorry, couldn't help it.)And in my viewing of the debate, I did not get the sense that she was drawing a distinction between the phrasing and the idea; she really seemed unaware that the concept was contained within the first amendment.

Posted by: A.D. on October 19, 2010 at 9:15 PM | PERMALINK

It says something about the quality of the week she spent in Claremont, CA, "studying" the Constitution. I wonder what her problem is. Is this the session where a Liberty University graduate was giving the lectures or was that the one at Oxford?

Posted by: Texas Aggie on October 19, 2010 at 11:59 PM | PERMALINK

I saw something different relating to this on another blog. Youve obviously spent a while on this. Done well!

Posted by: Dale Duca on February 2, 2011 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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