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You have an opinion, but do you have what it takes to be heard?

Conor Williams
Washington, DC

Conor Williams

I’m working on a PhD in Government at Georgetown, so I’m full of ideals, but my optimism is tempered by experience.

When intelligence is electoral baggage

Editor's note: We asked all our finalists to watch and then assess the debate between Delaware Senate candidates Chris Coons and Christine O'Donnell this morning.


During the Delaware Senate debate this morning, Tea Party hero Christine O'Donnell scored huge rhetorical points by emphasizing Chris Coons' Ivy League credentials.  Clouded by his years spent studying at Amherst and Yale, Coons made the outrageous claim that the First Amendment includes the following language: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."  (It does.)  He also demonstrated that he knows the substance of the Fourteenth, Sixteenth, and Seventeenth Amendments to the Constitution.  This was in keeping with her recent campaign ad explaining that she had never attended Yale and that she didn't inherit millions of dollars.  Someone should tell her that she's not running against William F. Buckley (or Monty Python, for that matter.  Does anyone have other suggestions for things O'Donnell is not?  An Olympic marathoner?  A jazz bassist?). 


O'Donnell, untrammeled by such over-education, responded by paraphrasing the Seventeenth Amendment, giggling, "Fortunately Senators don't have to memorize the Constitution, can you remind me what the other ones are?"  (This is despite the fact that some Republicans and many Tea Party activists advocate the repeal of all three.)  Asked for examples of past leadership experience, O'Donnell cited her current campaign. 


The debate left me wondering: haven't we run this experiment recently?  Voter fear of education, experience, and intelligence brought us from "fuzzy math" to fiscal mismanagement of federal surpluses over the last decade.  Putting rhetoric above the facts has disastrous consequences.  This isn't populism--it's rank anti-intellectualism, and it's not what we need right now.  In a later answer, Coons had it right when he demanded that we push back against this kind of ignorance. 

Read more entries from this challenge round. Check out what the judges think. And come back Friday to vote.


By Conor Williams  |  October 19, 2010; 9:43 AM ET  | Category:  Blogging Challenge
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Good point! America needs to elect serious, knowledgeable statesman to solve our problems, not the self serving ignorant.

Posted by: chucky-el | October 20, 2010 10:30 AM
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@ MSJS I think the "author's beef" is with ignorance. In the final sentence, he qualifies anti-intellectualism as a "kind of ignorance." The comparison is not one of equation, but instead one of subcategorization.

My take: O'Donnell is ignorant. She shows this ignorance in several ways. One of them is, specifically, implying that intellect is a bad trait for a politician to possess. Generally, ignorance is the root problem (and a much more severe one!)

Posted by: jhones | October 20, 2010 12:17 AM
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The problem with today's GOP (driven by the far right) is that they're both ignorant (O' Donnell can get away with not knowing every part of the Constitution, but she completely whiffed on the First Amendment in the debate, which is sort of preposterous) and anti-intellectual. It's not enough to call them stupid and backwards. People need to point out the dangerous consequences of electing these people to office, as Conor brings up here. Calling them names is fun (and accurate much of the time), but pointing out what their views would do to the country is something far more important, and a topic the mainstream media has basically left alone.

Posted by: fp26 | October 19, 2010 8:25 PM
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Is the author's beef with anti-intellectualism or ignorance? In the final para heh seems to want to equate the two. They aren't the same.

The humor felt forced. I see some liked it, which is fine. Didn't work for me.

Posted by: MsJS | October 19, 2010 3:05 PM
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To Armybrat1,

You missed the point of what Conor is saying. He was not saying that Coons is smart and O'donnell is an idiot but that she doesn't have the most basic knowledge of our constitution while claiming that Coons does not! We do not expect our representatives to have encylopedic knowledge of our laws but if they are going to make accusations they should have the facts to back them up with. Clearly, O'donnell does not.
Good job Conor!

Posted by: dchristy56 | October 19, 2010 2:57 PM
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Conor, this just struck me as more of the same "people who disagree with me are dumb" nonsense of which we've seen a lot lately. Anne Applebaum's articles last week stand out; it's almost as if you copied her. You could have mentioned that Coons left out the other part of the religion clause from the First Amendment (you DO remember that other part), or you could have mentioned that Coons couldn't name the five freedoms listed in the First Amendment, but that would undercut your hypothesis that O'Donnell is an idiot and Coons is a smart guy who's make a good Senator. Personally, I'd like to see better from a pundit.

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | October 19, 2010 1:51 PM
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I'm sure Jesus is her favorite political philosopher, too.

It's not the lack of formal education we should fear in candidates like Palin and O'Donnell, it's the aversion to intellectual curiosity. And the audacity to try to spin this as a positive attribute.

On the flip side, it's refreshing to see a candidate like Coons is comfortable with who he is and doesn't feel the need to apologize for it or pretend to be something he's not.

Posted by: jlupfer | October 19, 2010 12:44 PM
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Conor, PLEASE!!!

You REALLY think candidates for public office should have a fairly extensive knowledge base? I mean, O'Donnell is correct: senators don't have to memorize the constitution! I'm betting you also think they should espouse evidence-based policy and stuff like that there, too.

Why, you're an even worse elitist than Coons!

Posted by: post_reader_in_wv | October 19, 2010 12:41 PM
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After reading the other posts, I was really struck by how well you tied the debate to some larger issues, instead of just providing a rehash of the back-and-forth. (Of course, could always do with more of that).

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 19, 2010 12:33 PM
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Well (and humorously) -said, Conor. It's sometimes hard to believe that we're not just playing parts in the theater of the absurd.

It's really puzzling to me how educational attainment seems to have become a positive DISqualification for public office. Don't we actually want our best and brightest to be attracted to public service?

For anyone who's interested, Jacob Weisberg over at Slate has an interesting take on the Republican's favorite new frame: "elitism".

Posted by: waltersobchak2 | October 19, 2010 12:17 PM
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The "jazz bassist" line made me laugh out loud.

Come on, Conor, clearly we need more anti-intellectualism. Look at what Yale grads like George W. Bush and Clarence Thomas have done to the country :)

Posted by: JackRyan82 | October 19, 2010 11:48 AM
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