CNN can't seem to get enough of these teabaggers. Dana Loesch was on Parker/Spitzer and then Anderson Cooper brings her on to discuss the Christine O'Donnell/Chris Coons debate. I guess they didn't want to let Bill Maher be the only one to ruin a show this week by having her on.
COOPER: We begin tonight, though, as we do every night, "Keeping Them Honest" and we start tonight with a politician who claims to be guided by the Constitution and talks about it all the time on the campaign trail. Yet it turns out she might not be as familiar with it as she pretends.
We're talking about Delaware Republican and Tea Party favorite Christine O'Donnell, who is running for Senate debating opponent Chris Coons at a Delaware law school this morning. Now, the two were sparring over teaching evolution and the separation of church and state. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, my God.
(END VIDEO CLIP) COOPER: A few beats later, someone in the crowd says unbelievable. Ms. O'Donnell keeps smiling, then, a minute later, this exchange:
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
COONS: The First Amendment, 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...
COONS: ... clarifies and enshrines -- clarifies and enshrines that there is a separation of church and state that our courts and our laws must respect.
O'DONNELL: So, you're telling me that the separation of church and state...
O'DONNELL: ... the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?
O'DONNELL: Let me just clarify. You're telling me that the separation of church and state is found in the First Amendment?
COONS: The government shall make no establishment of...
O'DONNELL: That's in the First Amendment?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Now, perhaps Ms. O'Donnell was simply trying to say that the literal phrase separation of church and state is not in the First Amendment. That's true.
Here's a relevant passage. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
The very first sentence of the very first amendment. The words separation of church and state are not in there. Yet, the sentence itself makes it plain. Government can neither meddle with your faith, nor set up an official faith of its own.
Now, even before the Bill of Rights, Article 6 of the Constitution prohibited religious tests for holding public office. And as Chris Coons pointed out, numerous Supreme Court decisions over the years have fleshed out what the First and other amendments mean in practice. What Ms. O'Donnell got right was the technicality. What a lot of people think she missed was everything else. She also had a tough time today remember something of the other amendments.
When asked if she, like some other Tea Party candidates, supported changing or repealing the 14th, 16th and 17th Amendments, she said she didn't want to change the 17th Amendment, but clearly didn't know what the other amendments were. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: Jason (ph), I'm sorry I didn't bring my Constitution with me. Fortunately, some of us don't have to memorize the Constitution. Well, can you let me -- remind me of what the other ones are?
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Well the 14th guarantees due process and equal protection under the law and defines citizenship. It's been a big issue on the campaign trail this year. And the 16th Amendment is the federal income tax, also obviously a pretty big topic.
Now, I'm sure most of us get confused about which amendment is which. I certainly do. But most of us aren't running for Senate, and most of us don't claim to be constitutional experts, as Christine O'Donnell has certainly come to doing just that. Listen.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What responsibilities or experiences in jobs and past activities do you feel qualify you to be a senator?
O'DONNELL: Well, for one, I have a graduate fellowship from the Claremont Institute in constitutional government. And it is that deep analysis of the Constitution that has helped me to analyze and have an opinion on what's going on today, to be able to determine that our leaders in Washington have lost their way, and no longer follow the constitutional principles.
Otherwise, we wouldn't have Obamacare, we wouldn't have these massive bailouts, we wouldn't be taking over GM. So, number one, it is my study in the Constitution.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: That's a couple weeks ago, her study of the Constitution.
By the way, the graduate fellowship she talks about from the Claremont Institute -- the Claremont Institute is a conservative think tank. It's not a university. And the fellowship lasted a grand total of seven days.
Now, that's not the only time that Christine O'Donnell has talked about the Constitution. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
O'DONNELL: We people in Congress who are going to be advocates for our Constitution.
If you can help me get elected, I will always vote according to our Constitution.
The litmus test by which I cast my vote for every piece of legislation that comes across my desk will be whether or not it is constitutional.
And the Constitution is making a comeback. It's almost as if we're in a season of constitutional repentance.
It is the Constitution by which I will determine how I vote on all legislation coming across my desk.
It's the Constitution by which I determine all of my policies.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK.
O'DONNELL: I also have a graduate fellowship in constitutional government from the Claremont Institute.
It is the Constitution that I will defend and it is by the Constitution by -- that I will make all of my decisions.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
COOPER: Again, a lot of people, including myself, get confused about constitutional amendments, but not a lot of people running for Senate based on their deep analysis and study of the Constitution.
Joining us now is Democratic strategist Paul Begala, Tea Party organizer Dana Loesch, and senior legal analyst Jeff Toobin.
Paul, is it a fair criticism? If she says she is running based on her deep understanding of the Constitution, and that's how she's going to govern, is it fair then to say, well, she didn't know what the -- you know, these amendments were?
BEGALA: Well, I think it is.
I think you make a good point. People might get confused. I mean, how many of us have had to invoke the Third Amendment, for example, that prohibits the quartering of troops in our home? OK. I -- I get that.
But what bothers me -- and it's not just Christine O'Donnell, I think, who can plainly -- who can plainly plead ignorance as a defense -- but across the conservative movement, there is this schizophrenia, this claimed fidelity to the Constitution, when, in fact, they want to shred a whole bunch of it.
As you pointed, they want to repeal the 17th Amendment, the direct election of senators, the 16th Amendment, which allows an income tax. They want to change the First Amendment to ban flag- burning. They want to allow school prayer, which change the First Amendment. They want a balanced budget amendment, a line item veto amendment. They want to change the 14th Amendment, so that people who are born here, some would not be citizens.
I could go on. They want to ban same-sex marriage and put that in the Constitution. So they -- they don't really like the Constitution. It's a little like saying -- say you get married, and you're on your honeymoon, and turn to your wife and you say, honey, I love you, but you need a butt job, a boob job, liposuction. Could you put this wig on?
I mean, you know, if you love the Constitution, love it or leave it alone.
COOPER: Dana, is this a fair criticism of Christine O'Donnell, that -- that, you know, she's running on the Constitution and doesn't seem to know at least what two of the amendments are that are -- have been talked about a lot on the campaign trail?
LOESCH: Well, I have to say -- and, Anderson, thank you for having me back -- I think Mr. Toobin's assessment of what conservatives think of the Constitution was grossly partisan.
Secondly, I don't know why anyone isn't talking about why Chris Coons wasn't able to mention...
COOPER: Paul Begala, not Toobin.
LOESCH: Oh, sorry, Paul. Sorry, Paul Begala.
COOPER: That's all right.
COOPER: Toobin is going to say something you're going to criticize also.
LOESCH: I don't have a monitor. Everyone's voices sound the same.
LOESCH: But, no, Chris Coons was unable to list...
BEGALA: Sorry. I am grossly partisan. Toobin is -- is brilliant. But...
COOPER: Sorry. Go ahead, Dana.
LOESCH: Well -- well -- OK.
Chris Coons was unable to mention the five enumerated rights in the First Amendment in this debate. No one's discussing that at all. And you would think that someone who is running for Senate, the First Amendment, that's an easy. That's a gimme. That's stuff that everybody learns in seventh and eighth grade.
You would think that he would at least -- and I realize that we're not all constitutional experts, but if we're going to have the same standard applying to Christine O'Donnell, it also needs to be applicable to Chris Coons as well.
COOPER: Fair point.
TOOBIN: That's certainly a fair point. Everybody has to be judged by the same standard.
You know, it's hard to evaluate something like this in a way that makes -- that is fair criticism, but you don't want to sound like a jerk or a scold. I had to look up the 16th Amendment. I didn't remember the 16th Amendment off the top of my head.
TOOBIN: But the 14th is a big deal. The First is a big deal.
COOPER: The 14th -- the thing about the 14th -- and -- and I was hesitant to be critical of this, but the 14th has been bandied about so much over the last couple of months with citizen -- birthright citizenship and the like.
TOOBIN: That's right.
And if you listen to the full context of the -- the debate about the First Amendment, it wasn't just that she didn't know the phrase separation of church and state was not in the First Amendment. She didn't know what the First Amendment was about.
I mean, that, I think -- you know, you don't need it to be...
COOPER: Well, her defenders will say, well, look, she was pointing out that term separation of church and state is not in the First Amendment.
TOOBIN: That's what her supporters would point out. That's not what the tape shows. What the tape shows is she didn't know anything about the First Amendment, at least as I saw...
COOPER: Dana, do you think that's true?
LOESCH: I don't agree with that.
TOOBIN: You don't think that's true?
LOESCH: No, I don't agree with that at all.
I think what she was pointing out was Chris Coons' unequal application of the establishment clause regarding the First Amendment, and how really, when you deny rights in the classroom to one group, when you deny rights to one group in favor of secularism, which is its own religion -- religion is not -- is not patented by just a faith in God or Christian principles. It's a devotion and a set of beliefs to a certain something.
You could be religious in your love of music or religious about green causes. But when you deny rights to one, that's -- that's unequal. It's just let it -- let whatever be represented be represented. That's a fair application of the establishment cause in first -- religion -- and if people -- really, that was put in the First Amendment to protect religion from government.
And this is really -- when you delve into Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist, the sentence following the wall of separation between church and state really sheds a lot light onto that.
TOOBIN: Well, I just -- I think the point O'Donnell was making and just -- was making right here -- is a lot of conservatives believe the courts have pushed God out of too many places in American life, that they have pushed God out of classrooms, they have banned school prayer.
And that is a perfectly legitimate widely-held view that I think O'Donnell held. Now, the Supreme Court has not really embraced that view much lately, but it is certainly not some exotic, crazy view. That's a view a lot of conservatives hold.
BEGALA: But there -- there...
COOPER: Go ahead.
BEGALA: But there is an exotic, crazy view that some conservatives hold, at least Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for Senate in Nevada.
And that is that Sharia law is coming to America, or even has come. Right? If -- if you don't believe there's a separation of church and state, then you could get Sharia law. So -- so, Ms. Angle and the other Tea Partiers have to choose. Are they more fearful of Muslims and Sharia law or more desirous of tearing down the -- the separation of church and state, so that maybe -- I guess they don't want the Mohammed law. They want the Jesus law.
But I don't think it's going to work that way. And I think we need that wall of separation.
COOPER: Paul, you're saying...
COOPER: You're saying the idea of separation of church and state actually prevents Sharia from becoming the law of a land?
BEGALA: Exactly. It's -- it's why we can't have Sharia law in America, because we have a separation of church and state.
LOESCH: Well, Sharia -- no, no, no. Sharia law allows for -- in fact they just passed this, I believe, over in Saudi Arabia, that it is OK under Sharia law to beat your wife, as long as there are no bruises. So I think we have basic assault laws that would prevent that, not the separation of church and state.
COOPER: Paul, you want to respond?
BEGALA: No, but, if you changed the law, then it wouldn't be assault anymore. I mean, come on.
COOPER: You're too much in shock.
TOOBIN: I'm too much in shock.
So what that Saudi Arabia -- I mean, Saudi Arabia's legal system is very different from ours.
TOOBIN: The case you're referring to I believe is actually from the United Arab Emirates -- Emirates, which said that you can beat your wife as long as there's no marks here. But that's there. And that's here. And the law is very different here. And I think we can all celebrate that.
LOESCH: Oh, no, but I was responding to -- to Mr. Begala's explicit remark about -- about Sharia law in the United States.
COOPER: Do you think any of this matters to -- I mean, Dana, obviously, voters -- Christine O'Donnell needs to get independents. She needs -- I mean, she's far behind in the polls. Do you think this -- I mean, does this end her campaign? I mean, is this a major deal?
LOESCH: I don't think it ends her campaign, but I think she needs to stop being reactionary.
That's just my particular take on it. Obviously, if I were advising her campaign, which I am not in the business of, I would tell her to stop being so reactionary with stuff. Quit allowing other people to put you in a particular frame when it comes to a particular issue, because she's spending her entire campaign being reactionary to whatever Bill Maher does or whatever Chris Coons does. And she needs to get out of that rut.
COOPER: Paul, does she have a chance?
BEGALA: Not much of one.
It's a Democratic state. Joe Biden held that seat for 36 years. She's a good 10 or 20 points behind. This probably doesn't help, but, you know, the -- the percentage of people who are for her, maybe this isn't going to move them off, but it's not going to get her any independent votes.
COOPER: Got to leave it there.
Paul -- Paul Begala, Dana Loesch, Jeff Toobin, appreciate it. Thanks.