Roundup: Christine O’Donnell and the Great Debate

Robin Marty

O'Donnell has had her first debate, so how did she do?  Most people say not so hot.

One of my favorite parts of election season are candidate debates.  There’s nothing I enjoy more than two (or more) passionate candidates knowledgeably arguing key stances and laws.

Sadly, only one knowledgeable candidate was invited to the Delaware senate debate last night, and he was forced to debate Christine O’Donnell.

O’Donnell has a storied past, including being so  anti-choice and anti-sex that she opposed masturbation because it was “lustful.”  So how did she do on reproductive rights issues and in the debate in general?  According to numerous sources, not so well.

First, the straight transcript:

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KARIBJANIAN:  Our next student question brings us the issue of abortion.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  What is your stance on abortion, including in cases of rape and incest.


BLITZER:  For you.

O’DONNELL:  I believe there has been a profound loss of respect for the dignity of human life, and that is reflected in a lot of our policies, whether it is cutting taxes exemptions for disabled, low-income citizens in New Castle County, or with abortion.  I respect the human dignity on all levels, the unrepeatable precious human dignity on all levels.  And my opponent and others will use the scare tactic about rape and incest when that is less than 1 percent of all abortions
performed in America.


COONS:  I strongly support a woman’s right to choose.  It is settled constitutional law.  It is an important part of our nation and its freedoms.  I personally am opposed to abortion.  But I don’t think it is my place to put that view on women.  I think abortion should be safe, legal and rare.

KARIBJANIAN:  Well, we’ve talked about the Supreme Court, and obviously a United States senator has the opportunity to determine in a way the make-up of that court.  So what opinions of late that have come from our high court do you most object to?

O’DONNELL:  Oh, gosh.  Give me a specific one, I’m sorry.

KARIBJANIAN:  Actually, I can’t, because I need you to tell me which ones you object to.

O’DONNELL:  I’m very sorry.  Right off the top of my head, I know that there are a lot, but I’ll put it up on my Web site, I promise you.

BLITZER:  Well, we know you disagree with Roe versus Wade.

O’DONNELL:  Yes, but that was — she said a recent one.

BLITZER:  Well, that’s relatively recent.

O’DONNELL:  She said, of late. Yes, well, Roe versus Wade would not put the power — sorry, it’s 30 (ph)…(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER:  But since then,  have there been any other…(LAUGHTER) BLITZER:  … Supreme Court decisions?

O’DONNELL:  Well, let me say, about Roe versus Wade, Roe versus Wade, if that were overturned, would not make abortion illegal in the United States, it would put the power back to the states.

BLITZER:  But besides that decision, anything else you disagree with?

O’DONNELL:  Oh, there are several, when it comes to pornography,
when it comes to court decisions, not just Supreme Court, but federal
court decisions to give terrorists Miranda-ized rights.

I mean, there are a lot of things that I believe that — this California decision to overturn “Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell,” I believe that there are a lot of federal judges who are legislating from the bench.

BLITZER:  That wasn’t the Supreme Court, it’s a lower court.

Washington Post writer Steve Stromberg declares:

Christine O’Donnell is that person who thinks she can say things she doesn’t really know as long as she does it without a hint of doubt. That person in high-school debate who manipulates her audience with stage presence and an inventive approach to fact.

The Delaware Republican Senate candidate debated her Democratic opponent, Chris Coons, live on CNN Wednesday, and I’m disgusted. It wasn’t just her surprisingly aggressive and tellingly vague claims that Coons is a Boss Tweed-style cronyist, or her dismissive, mocking laughter during Coons’s answers, or her frequent interruptions. No, what really upset me was the content — if you can call it that — of at least half a dozen of her answers.

Either O’Donnell’s astonishingly cynical, or she’s really that oblivious. Whichever is the case, I think it’s clear why CNN awkwardly broke away from the debate after less than an hour, instructing viewers to visit if they’d like to continue watching that farce.

Over at Salon, the decision is that O’Donnell’s debate performance did nothing to win her any new voters:

Coons was probably a bit too dismissive of O’Donnell at times, frequently prefacing his replies to her statements by shaking his head and marveling that “there’s just so much there” to respond to. Voters already see that O’Donnell as something of a lunatic; they don’t need Coons pointing it out to them over and over. But his stylistic sins were minor and he committed no major gaffes. Die-hard conservatives surely found plenty of ideological objections to Coons’ statements, but they’re already in O’Donnell’s camp.

O’Donnell, when she wasn’t talking about “waste, fraud and abuse” and Marxism, tried over and over to connect Coons to Obama, Harry Reid and the national Democratic Party — bogeymen who are dragging down Democratic candidates in other states. But the swing voters who will decide Delaware’s election seem to have already decided that O’Donnell’s deficiencies outweigh their desire to vote Republican this year. It will take an awful lot to shake them from that position, and nothing that happened Wednesday will even come close to doing it.

And our own Jodi Jacobson, writing for Women’s Campaign Forum, states:

There were several times during last night’s debate between O’Donnell and Coons when she could not offer an articulate answer to critically important questions. (Full transcript here.) For example, asked to name recent Supreme Court decisions with which she disagrees, O’Donnell couldn’t think of any and promised to put it up on her website.

While she never passed herself off as a constitutional scholar, she is running for the Senate, and  Senators have terrific responsibilities of advice and consent in the process of nominating Supreme Court justices, and in crafting laws that may end up being contested in court.  Given what is at stake in this country today, any politician for the U.S. Senate must have a working knowledge of legal decisions made by the Court in the last 10, 20, 30 years. And even if, given the conservative nature of the court, she did not disagree with many decisions in the past, say, 10 years, she could have said that.

Instead, in a response right out of the Sarah Palin-Katie Couric interview, she came across as unprepared and, worse, dismissive of the fact that she did not have knowledge of high court decisions.  These may seem abstractions to many of us on a daily basis, but these decisions affect the real lives of real people every day.

There were many problems with O’Donnell’s performance in the debate and her clearly superficial understanding of many complex problems with which we have to grapple was deeply disturbing. What is most disturbing to me coming from O’Donnell, and other candidates of the ultra-conservative right, is the cavalier way in which they address profound issues in order to score political points. I no longer believe these folks even believe half of what they say themselves and certainly often don’t understand the implications.

Mini Roundup: How convenient — a law against leafleting cars to curb litter in Pennsylvania has been put on hold, at least until the election is over. The reasoning?  Not allowing leaflets is “stifling free speech” and it’s the drivers who cause the litter problem by not keeping the literature.  The anti-abortion activists pushing the case called no witnesses in the hearing.

October 14, 2010

October 13, 2010

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Christine O'Donnell, Delaware

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