[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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fairness: By allowing herself to look foolish and ignorant, O’Donnell unfairly and recklessly harmed the credibility of every other Tea Party-allied candidate.
- 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.