Christine O’Donnell’s Insult to Democracy

[NOTE: For reasons having to do with  brain synapses and carelessness, the earlier version of this post had Ms. O’Donnell identified as  Christine Whitman, who is not insulting democracy, at least not yet. I apologize to Ethics Alarms readers and the GOP candidate for governor of California for the error.]

As there is no defined “duty not to make the entire theory of representative government look like a terrible mistake” we’re just going to have to settle for applying the ethical duties of diligence, competence, and a few others in assessing Republican Senate nominee (in Delaware, which is collectively cringing in embarrassment) Christine O’Donnell’s disqualifying performance during her recent debate with opponent Chris Coons. 

There is no need for Ethics Alarms to retell the whole, nauseating story: you can read plenty about O’Donnell’s disgrace here and here. I will just enumerate and summarize the ethical principles O’Donnell trashed (not counting her various misrepresentations about her credentials and misuse of campaign funds, that is) as follows:

  1. Competence: For a Senate candidate who has made fealty to the Constitution a campaign pledge not to have a functional knowledge of basic Constitutional provisions in inexcusably incompetent.
  2. Diligence: A Senate candidate who is ignorant of the Constitution has a duty to educate herself, as basic diligence, in preparation  for  a public debate that is certain to include constitutional issues. She did not, or did an appallingly bad job of it.
  3. Respect: O’Donnell exhibited rank disrespect for the honor of being a major party nominee by allowing herself to be so unprepared for the debate, and showed disrespect for voters as well.
  4. Fairness: By allowing herself to look foolish and ignorant, O’Donnell unfairly and recklessly harmed the credibility of every other Tea Party-allied candidate.
  5. Citizenship: Her lack of knowledge, seriousness, preparation and historical perspective failed her civic duties as a citizen and potential leader.

And, as a culmination of all of these, trustworthiness. Anyone who would entrust responsibility to Christine O’Donnell after her debate performance has as little respect for self-government as she does, and is an even greater fool.


Post Script: It has been noted that the term “Separation of Church and State” is indeed not in the Constitution, so O’Donnell’s repeated question of whether it was part of the First Amendment can be defended—sort of. For more than 60 years, the concept of separation has been interpreted by the Supreme Court as included in the Establishment Clause, though as this fascinating post on the Volokh Conspiracy points out, it got there via a long and twisted route. If O’Donnell was really trying t0 suggest with her questions a knowledge of these subtleties, she sure did a lousy job of it. I think it is fair to assume, without knowing for certain, that her skepticism was caused by a deficit of knowledge, and not an over-abundance of it.

2 thoughts on “Christine O’Donnell’s Insult to Democracy

  1. I think this Constitutional issue is less clear cut than you and the media make it out to be. I also think Christine O’Donnell’s initial take on it was more historically accurate (although that was probably just accidental). This issue is just way too complicated for Christine O’Donnell to take on during a live debate and it showed.

    Why is it complicated?
    (1) Many of the states that ratified the Bill of Rights had established religions.
    (2) They did not abandon such established religions after ratification.
    (3) The establishment of religion lasted until the mid-ninteenth century and was not abandoned because of court rulings but because of state legislative action.

    Therefore, it is obvious that the first amendment was not intended by its framers or supporters to establish a separation of church and state. Instead, it was meant to preserve the free exercise of religion and preserve the establishment of religion in the states themselves. By forbidding the federal government from establishing a national religion, it allowed the states to maintain their established religions. By established state religions, I do not mean they allowed a Christmas tree on public property. I mean the state churches were supported by taxpayer money, the ministers were paid by the state, and anyone who could not prove that they tithed another church had to pay a 10% income tax to the state church in some states.

    Only later did the Supreme Court decide that there should be a separation of church and state policy in the Constitution, but that does not change the historical record, nor was that principle put in the Constitution by a legislative action. So yes, there is a separation of church and state “in the Constitution”, the Constitution not being a single written document, but being what the Supreme Court says it is.

    • I don’t dispute any of this, but everything you have said is waaaay over Christine’s head, and she doesn’t care. I’m pretty sure the Establishment Clause was intended narrowly; I’m also sure the Founders weren’t considering the pluralistic society to come, or the reach and influence of government as the nation expanded. The logical conclusion that if government endorses, embraces, supports or allows its entities to support one religion over others, it “establishes” that religion, hence requiring separation of Church and State, isn’t so hard to grasp. If O’Donnell wanted to make your points, she had an obligation to be prepared to make them.

      It is my experience that those who advocated a minority viewpoint are either much better informed than those they debate with, or much less. To be in the latter category for a debate on television boggles the mind.

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