Sunday, September 19, 2010

From Whackjob to Weasel

Christine O'Donnell, a rising star of the so-called Tea Party movement, was shown to be a whackjob during the primary. We, along with many other sites, showed the video of her preaching how masturbation is adultery and sinful. The pathetic Republican Party in Delaware, however, nominated her to be their Senate candidate, something which makes Democrats very happy. Previously there was no way for the Democrats to pick up this seat from the sitting Republican. But as the Republican Party has become more extreme—and not in the pursuit of liberty—it is replacing electable Republicans with whackjobs like O'Donnell. This race alone may be sufficient to prevent the Republicans from gaining control of the Senate, which is something that they wanted very badly.

O'Donnell now has GOP handlers advising her and someone wrote a well-crafted "weasel" statement about her anti-masturbatory campaigns of the past. I call it a weasel statement because it actually evades the issues entirely. It sounds good, and the average member of the public, who isn't used to dissecting material for real content, may be assured by it. But anyone who actually thinks about, for a second, shouldn't be fooled. Allow me to quote the statement that O'Donnell made and then dissect it for you. Here is how the LA Times reported her statement:
"Yes, I have my personal beliefs," she said when asked about her views. "These are questions from statements I made over 15 years ago. I was in my 20s and very excited and passionate about my new found faith. But I can assure you, my faith has matured. And when I go to Washington D.C., it will be the Constitution on which I base all of my decisions, not my personal beliefs."
Let us go through this statement to see what she is actually saying and what she isn't saying. She says the statements were made when she was young. At that time she had a "new found faith," which means a belief system she adopted wholesale from dead books without any intellectual scrutiny. But "I can assure you, my faith has matured."

What does that mean? Previously she held beliefs without reasons, on the basis of faith. Now she has a mature faith, which means what? How does the mature faith differ from the youthful faith? Faith is faith, it is still not reason. Was she previously a young fool but is now just an old fool? All she said is her faith is mature. People say that they have "faith" when they merely adopt a view without rational reasoning behind it. They hold the belief on the basis of "faith." All this does is tell us how she comes to her beliefs, not what those beliefs are. And both are rather critical here.

She does not indicate at all that her views on masturbation, sex and abstinence have changed at all. In fact, she rather strongly hints that she has NOT abandoned her beliefs whatsoever. She begins her statement saying: "Yes, I have my personal beliefs." This is present tense, not past tense. At best she is hinting that she now understands that there are other ways for her to express the same viewpoints without creating a firestorm. She has not repudiated her "personal beliefs" nor has she said that they have changed, only that her "faith" is now more mature.

Reporters are notoriously bad at interviewing politicians and allow them to make weasel statements all the time. But someone needs to ask O'Donnell: "Do you now believe that masturbation is not adultery?" I'd bet you a doughnut that if she were asked this she would evade the question entirely.

The first half of her statement is meant to address the issue of her past beliefs in contrast with present day beliefs. But nowhere does it actually indicate that these beliefs are now different, only that she has a more mature faith—and what that means is never explained by O'Donnell.

The second half of her statement is meant to address how she would vote on issues. It too avoids indicating anything of substance. She says that she will base all her decisions on the Constitution. Whoopee! What a meaningless statement!

If there is one thing that most politicians agree upon it is that they all think they vote according to the Constitution. Believing the Constitution is like believing the Bible. It means nothing. Why is that?

We can all debate what the Constitution means and we each come to our own conclusions. O'Donnell can happily vote for moralistic legislation, if offered the chance, and still proclaim she is within the Constitution as she sees it. The problem is that we have no idea how she sees the Constitution.

She campaigned for abstinence education within the state school system. Nowhere does the Constitution actually authorize a system of government education, nor does it sanction using tax monies to preach abstinence. In the Constitutional litany of government powers granted neither of these powers are listed. Remember the Constitution was meant to be a specific grant of powers to government with individual rights broadly interpreted. The Constitution quite clearly says that all individual rights could never be itemized, but government powers can, and should be.

So O'Donnell's abstinence campaign promoted two unconstitutional powers: government preaching about sex and state schools. Does she now think that this was unconstitutional? I would bet you she doesn't. Since we have no idea what she believes the Constitution sanctions or doesn't sanction we have no idea what she means by the statement.

A lot of statists want local tyranny via a "states rights" doctrine. Is this her view? It is certainly not a libertarian view which argues for individual rights. Conservatives argue that the separation of church and state is a myth and that the real Constitution sanctions government-mandated religion on the state level. Is that what O'Donnell means? We don't know and she isn't saying.

Invoking the Constitution is meant to have the appearance of substance without actually saying anything specific. Most the Congresscritters that voted for Obama's health care debacle will say that it is within the confines of the Constitution. Few will acknowledge that it is not. Many simply assume that anything they vote for is Constitutional and anything they oppose is not.

This is how the Constitution, like the Bible, is essentially meaningless when it comes to defining a person's beliefs. I can line up Christians who are absolutely convinced the Bible sanctions gay marriage and find others who say the Bible demands we kill all gay people. I can find politicians who say that nationalized medicine is constitutional and those that say it isn't.

It is easy to say: "I believe the Bible," as long as one is allowed to interpret it personally. Similarly the Constitution can be interpreted in very widely differing ways. We can fight about which is the "correct" interpretation but that is irrelevant to this discussion. What is relevant is what the individual, in this case O'Donnell, means when she says she will vote according to the Constitution. For most conservatives it means that any morality that dominated 200 years ago can still be imposed by the State today.

Here are the sort of questions that O'Donnell needs to be asked before her invocation of the Constitution has any merit whatsoever.

Does the Constitution permit government schools imposing religion on students in state schools?
Are sodomy laws regulating the private sexual lives of consenting adults constitutional?

Do the states have the right, according to the Constitution, to violate individual rights, in ways that the federal government does not?

Were state laws forbidding interracial marriage constitutional?

Are state laws forbidding same-sex marriage constitutional?

In what ways are these two issues constitutionally different?

Does government, at any level, have the constitutional power to ban sexually-explicit material?

Does government, at any level, have the constitutional power to wage a war on drugs?

Answering these questions will give us some idea of what this whackjob means when she invokes the Constitution as the litmus test she will employ. But without specifics all she has done is issue a weasel statement that tells us absolutely nothing.

Worse yet, such weasel statements are ingenious because each person interprets them according to their own personal opinions. So the reader who thinks government has no right to mandate school prayers will be assured by it equally as much as the reader who thinks the Constitution allows mandatory prayer.

When a public person says they believe the Bible every person who invokes the Bible them self, no matter in what way, feels a bit reassured. Each assumes that this at least means some agreement with them self, when it may mean no such thing. Similarly, invoking the Constitution is meant to reassure everyone because most listeners will assume that by "constitutional" O'Donnell means pretty much what they mean when they use the term. As long as the politician doesn't get forced to be more precise these weasel statements do a wonderful job of pulling the wool over the eyes of the voting public.

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