.... The key exchange begins just after the 17-minute mark. Here's my transcription:Perhaps she emphasized "First" because the discussion had been about what local school boards could do, and restrictions on them would need to come out of the 14th Amendment.* Now, Coons does properly restrict his assertion to the federal government at that point, but:
Coons: The First Amendment establishes the separation, the fact that the federal government shall not establish any religion, and decisional law by the Supreme Court over many, many decades—... In expressing her disbelief, she clearly emphasizes the word first. She seems incredulous not just at Coons' position against government-established religion, but that he bases it on the First Amendment. It's the citation that surprises her.
O'Donnell: The First Amendment does?
A minute later, O'Donnell brings the discussion back to this question:"Government shall make no establishment of religion" is a blatant misstatement of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion...") Now, I'm not trying to skewer Coons for saying that. Coons is doing well enough for speaking purposes. This isn't scholarly writing. But he's open to questioning, and O'Donnell might have pursued the point. Maybe she grinned because she knew he'd said something wrong.
O'Donnell: Let me just clarify: You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?Again, you need the audio, and in this case full-screen video, to get her meaning. As she says, "That's in the First Amendment," she stares at Coons with a look of contemptuous amusement. (You can see her expression more clearly in this video, about 7 minutes in.) Then she grins knowingly at somebody in the audience. She thinks Coons has just embarrassed himself.
Coons: Government shall make no establishment of religion.
O'Donnell: That's in the First Amendment.
Saletan proceeds, on this scanty evidence, to insist that the real problem with O'Donnell is that she is too confident when she speaks. Supposedly, that makes her "impervious" to new information and arguments, and that would be bad. Yeah, it would be bad. But this is a political debate! It's not the time to make a show of uncertainty and doubt. It's a time to state clear positions so voters can make a choice. I'm sure if O'Donnell had seemed uncertain about what to think, Saletan would have attacked her for her weakness. Instead, he's left criticizing her for "imperviousness." That's really lame. It reminds me of the way people of the left were always calling George Bush "incurious." It might make some sense if an ever-searching, ever-questioning intelligence was demanded of every candidate, across the political spectrum, but it is not.
My working theory is that it's Saletan who is impervious — and incurious. But I will continue, as ever, to search and question (and be, as ever, completely ill-suited to run for political office).
* The 14th Amendment — the Supreme Court has held — incorporates the Establishment Clause and makes it applicable to state and local government. There is, by the way, an impressive argument that the incorporation of the Establishment Clause was a mistake. Justice Thomas makes that argument here. I would not be surprised if O'Donnell would, as Senator, enthusiastically vote to confirm more federal judges who think like Clarence Thomas. And that's certainly something Delaware voters should take into account.