October 20, 2010

Slate and Stupid: William Saletan's cocky ignorance of the First Amendment.

I'm turning William Saletan's headline back on him.
.... The key exchange begins just after the 17-minute mark. Here's my transcription:
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—

O'Donnell: The First Amendment does?
... 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.
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:
A minute later, O'Donnell brings the discussion back to this question:
O'Donnell: Let me just clarify: You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?

Coons: Government shall make no establishment of religion.

O'Donnell: That's 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.
"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.

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.


Chase said...

How we wish you were debating William Saletan on Bloggingheads.

Unknown said...

The Lefties will be here soon arguing this proves how dumb O'D is, but she shows how sloppy his thinking is.

And him, a college professor :)

PS Actually, Ann, I think you're the kid of person we need in public office, but I know what you mean. Truth-telling and thoughtfulness aren't allowed in public life.

PPS I'm fascinated by this business of SCOTUS filtering everything through the 14th Amendment to make whatever the states do the Feds' business. Considering we keep hearing about how the appellate courts worry about the intent of the Founding Fathers, this is so far outside what the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution generally, is about, it's incredible.

Term limits for Federal judges, SCOTUS included, as well as Congress, anyone?

Sprezzatura said...

"I can't escape the feeling of obligation to post about this."

Well we can't say she didn't warn us. Not, that this disclosure fully expressed the dead horse smack down that was on the horizon.

John said...

Saleton is one of the dumbest writers on Slate. And Slate, a magazine that includes Emily Baylzon and Dalia Lithwick has a murderers row of stupidity. And as Saleton proves in this post, they are so stupid they don't even realize how dumb they are. The always wonderful Emily Yoffee aside, what a pathetic publication.

Chennaul said...

Althouse can you explain how what O'Donnell says here is correct?

O"DONNELL:Well, I would agree. The Supreme Court has said that there are restrictions on our First Amendment rights. Again, you know, you can't, as you said, go into a crowded theater and yell fire. You can't stand up on a plane and yell hijack. You can't slander and libel someone.

However, where the question has come between what is protected free speech and what is not protected free speech, the Supreme Court has always ruled that the community, the local community has the right to decide.

Particularly the last part.

Chennaul said...

The Supreme Court has always ruled..


John said...

"However, where the question has come between what is protected free speech and what is not protected free speech, the Supreme Court has always ruled that the community, the local community has the right to decide."

That is true. All of the First Amendment obscenity cases are based on the local community's right to define what is and is not "obscene".

Chennaul said...

John any other cases?

Remember she said always?

Chennaul said...

Althouse if you need the video and context here is a link to her response during the debate at C-Span.

CSPAN Debate Delaware

Just roll forward to the 1 hour and 9 minute 10 second mark.

Chennaul said...

Here is the context-O'Donnell was responding to this student question-

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: In light of the events in the past decade, Islam has been viewed as a religion for extremists and terrorists, where Muslims, including myself, can attest that Islam is far from that. Now recently there has been much controversy over the mosque being built in the vicinity of ground zero and also the Florida pastor making outrageous remarks about the Koran. Now my question to you is, as senator, where is the line between the freedom of speech and the respect of other religions? Both of which freedoms are found in the First Amendment of the Constitution.

Chennaul said...

Again here is O'Donnell's answer:

However, where the question has come between what is protected free speech and what is not protected free speech, the Supreme Court has always ruled that the community, the local community has the right to decide.

How is O'Donnell correct here?

Chennaul said...


It's only going to take about three minutes of your time to watch the video.

The student's question starts at the 1 hour, 9 minute and 10 second spot and O'Donnell is done with here answer at about the 1 hour and 13 minute mark.

Anonymous said...

Slate and these leftists are idiots. Here is what she said according to the Washington Post:

She interrupted to say, "The First Amendment does? ... So you're telling me that the separation of church and state, the phrase 'separation of church and state,' is in the First Amendment?"

Of course Slate can't speak to that fact...

Johnny Vino said...

Jay's point is what Ace of Spades posted in the last hour.

The actual quote - which was misreported initially - is a specific point about an interpretive phrase not really being in the text. You mis-quote and smear her as an idiot, when in fact that's a critical line of discussion. If purposeful by the WaPo, that's just pathetic.

John said...


First the question itself is scary ignorant. I would have tore the guy a new asshole. Since when does "shall not infringe" mean "shall no infringe unless the speech disrespects religion". The whole premise of his question (that the government has a right to restrict speech to ensure people "respect religion" is profoundly flawed and ignorant.

That said, I am not sure how O'Donnell was supposed to answer it politely. That said, it appears that she approach the question as analogous to obscenity regulation. And she gave a good answer.

The ignorant person in the exchange is the law student not O'Donnell. I shudder to think what the hell they are teaching those students.

Milwaukie guy said...

Freedom of speech can be constrained by the concept of fighting words. If speech is so outlandish to community morals so as to provoke mayhem, then the community has an immediate right to shut it down and a huge court case after.

wv: unlesses: Free unlesses it provokes riot.

traditionalguy said...

Their is no ignorance like cocky ignorance, and the refusal to believe any facts not approved as facts at Harvard and Yale is the cockiest ignorance anyone has ever seen. Did I say that humbly enough?

chickelit said...

William Saletan's cocky ignorance of the Amendment

Isn't Saletan that expert on anality?

Anonymous said...

Anne, you say:
"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.*"

One problem - at 3:30 in the video below, O'Donnell admits that she doesn't know what's in the 14th Amendment. Or the 16th.


I'm Full of Soup said...

Saletan is stealan when he cribs DNC talking points to print opeds in Stale Magazine.

Bob Ellison said...

I grow weary of Professor Althouse's argument here. It's somewhat akin to those who insist the Civil War wasn't about slavery. Silly stuff. The first amendment was a clear attempt to protect free practice of religion. The later 14th-amendment incorporation that extended it to all governments is quite old and accepted, logical trash though it is.

Americans today tend strongly to subscribe to the notion of "separation of church and state". Coons was stating the obvious, and O'Donnell looked like an idiot in response.

LoafingOaf said...

madawaskan: "However, where the question has come between what is protected free speech and what is not protected free speech, the Supreme Court has always ruled that the community, the local community has the right to decide."

How is O'Donnell correct here?

Yikes! I can understand why Althouse is now suddenly advising people not to talk about O'Donnell anymore. So, I guess she'll brush the quote you provided under the rug.

BTW, I saw Anderson Cooper of CNN playing a clip where O'Donnell was trying to present herself as someone who has deeply analyzed the constitution.

When asked recently what qualified her for the senate, O'Donnell discussed her "graduate fellowship from the Claremont Institute in constitutional government."

"By the way, the graduate fellowship she talks about from the Claremont Institute? The Claremont Institue is a conservative think tank, it's not a university, and the fellowship lasted a grand total of seven days," Cooper said.

Cooper then played a series of clips of O'Donnell basing her run in her deep analysis and defense of the constitution.

"Again, a lot of people, including myself, get confused about constitutional amendments," Cooper said. "But not a lot of people are running for senate based on their deep analysis and study of the constitution."


Opus One Media said...

then again she could just be surprised on learning that there were amendments to the constitution to begin with....just sayin'.....

besides that grin could be the smile of the village idiot...an office she should aspire to as much as we aspire for her.

amazing...my word verification below is "goofy".

dbp said...

"amazing...my word verification below is "goofy""

Some would say "apt" rather than "amazing".

Rich said...

happyvalleynews said:

"One problem - at 3:30 in the video below, O'Donnell admits that she doesn't know what's in the 14th Amendment. Or the 16th."

This to me is a much bigger deal than a debate over the establishment clause when the debaters were talking past each other most of the time. How can any adult running for high federal office not know about the Civil War amendments? Or, especially for a tax-cutter like Ms. O'Donnell, the 16th Amendment? Perhaps they're not as important as the 21st Amendment, but I would expect some rudimentary knowledge about, for instance, the 14th Amendment.

kentuckyliz said...

Or the 13th. The first African American POTUS wants to reinstitute slavery. The HCR bill conscripts health care workers including doctors into military service b/c that's the only mandatory service that's constitutional--but they aren't serving in the military, they're slaves to government orders.

Let's see the candidates discuss their position in supporting or opposing national mandatory service schemes and the 13th amendment. Far more relevant.

Where in the Constitution does it say we have to respect other people's religion? Eff that. I'm not going to. It's a free country, practice whatever faith you want, but I claim free speech rights to slice and dice your Flying Spaghetti Monster deity.

jungatheart said...

Pogo, you there? Is there something in the HC bill that conscripts you into national service/medical practice if you choose to retire?

philso said...

Saletan is a typical radical left wing jerk-off... His reaction to the Ben Laden episode was even jerkier. Another sixties scummer...