Monday, November 8, 2010

Was "dolt" the proper metaphor to use for Christine O’Donnell?

OK, so Christine "I'm not a witch" O’Donnell lost her bid to become a tea party patriot.  Good for us.  Unfortunately I was on vacation and could not write my thoughts here in this blog for nobody to read.  I do feel the need to add another dimension to what she said that was picked up and used to reinforce her stupidity and make her look like a dolt.

Now don't get me wrong, I think the woman is another Sarah Palin empty suit and terribly misinformed and ignorant.  But to call her a dolt (not a name chosen by Leonard Pitts by the way) for her comment:
"Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?" really not fair.  Even, in my opinion, Leonard Pitts got it wrong in his analysis of what was behind that statement:
"It was a bizarre exchange that permits but two conclusions. One, O’Donnell is frighteningly ignorant, particularly for a woman who claims constitutional expertise and aspires to the Senate. Or, two, assuming you buy her after-the-fact explanation (she was merely observing that the phrase "separation of church and state’’ is not in the First Amendment), she is terribly disingenuous."
So there are only two conclusions?  Ignorance or being disingenuous?  Like I said, I think she is ignorant, but was that statement - "Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state" - said out of ignorance?  Or was she being terribly disingenuous, that is, "not straightforward or candid; giving a false appearance of frankness"?

Oh, how I hate to defend people I do not respect as a whole, but there are many shades of gray, and in this case, there is more than just "two conclusions" as to what motivated her to say what she did.

First of all, I think one must understand the psyche of people who unabashedly align themselves as a tea party patriot.  They are fundamentally ideological in their thinking.  This means they are not analytical or logical in how they look at the world and most often lack the ability to comprehend things that do not align with their ideology.  The ability to comprehend is a necessary component of intelligence.

So if my conclusion is that Christine O’Donnell is not very smart, was her statement that the term "separation of church and state" does not appear in the Constitution made out of ignorance?  I contend that it was not.

I believe that she fully understands what she said as being true.  You need to understand the reasoning behind it to be able to give her some credit and come to her defense.  What you need to understand is that she most likely believes that Jefferson's Danbury Baptist letter where he writes: 
"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
...has been incorrectly used as a sword to sever religion from public life.  This, along with the fact that it is used as a metaphor for the First Amendment to the Constitution - Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion - puts her in a quandary.  If she was intellectually competent she would understand that accepting the metaphor does not mean one accepts severing religion from public life.  But such is the trap ideologues always fall into.

But she is not alone in making this type of 'doltish' sounding statement:
"In 1962, Justice Potter Stewart complained that jurisprudence was not "aided by the uncritical invocation of metaphors like the 'wall of separation,' a phrase nowhere to be found in the Constitution." Addressing the issue in 1985, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist lamented that "unfortunately the Establishment Clause has been expressly freighted with Jefferson's misleading metaphor for nearly 40 years."
But in the end, first and foremost, Jefferson's wall of separation phrase was intended to mean just that.  For most of us, we understand it as a metaphor - a concept of understanding one thing in terms of another. It succinctly sums up the wording in the actual Constitution into something that can - or should - be easily understood.

The problem for people like Christine O’Donnell is that Jefferson's words have been used to justify Supreme Court cases she and others find intolerable.  And because it is often used as the justification for severing religion from public life it cannot be accepted as meaning the same as the actual words written in the Constitution.

If she was a critical thinker she would never had made that statement, not that it is wrong, but because it must be seen as a metaphor and not as a defense of one particular way of defining just what is meant by "shale make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

So sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and sometimes wall of separation means making a law respecting the establishment of religion.  It's just a metaphor, you know, like "Jesus is the son of God."  Oh, you didn't know that statement isn't in the Bible?  Yeah, go ask Christine O’Donnell to stop using that statement of truth.

Ten bucks says she will defend it as being implied.  You know, like that wall of separation thingy Jefferson wrote about.  It ain't in there but it sure as heck explains it well.


Kevin said...

spot on again! KEEP WRITING..YOU HAVE ONE READER ! though I wanted to clear something up. You consider ignorant right? after reading your post I have to admit my mind was changed, mainly cause I was leaning on the side of leonard's point but yours certainly makes more sense. though I have always wondered, was the letter he wrote something official like the federalist papers? something that was written not in congress but had a large affect on policy? because it would reason to me that even though it was a paper not written by congress it had a lot of power, even if it had no real legal or policy power actaully in it..or I just dont make any sense :P

Jeff said...

Jefferson had it printed in the paper - so as it was from him - it would carry some weight. Read "The Wall of Separation" from the Library of Congress. It explains what Jefferson was agonizing over and what he wanted to get across.