Tea Party drops the bag in Delaware

By Yaroslav Mikhaylov

Christine O’Donnell won one major victory in her debate for the Delaware senate seat with Christopher Coons: She did not leave viewers with the impression she was a witch. On all other counts, the debate was a disaster for her. Ariz. Governor Janice Brewer’s 10-second pause had nothing on O’Donnell’s awkward and stilted debating manner.

Coons, on the other hand, was eloquent, poised and -­ very much in contrast to O’Donnell – well prepared. His delivery seemed at times slightly barbed and sarcastic – something that is expected in a debate between two experts of the art. Faced with an opponent who seemed as if she was participating in a debate for the first time in her life, Coons did seem needlessly cruel – something that wouldn’t be noticeable had O’Donnell been capable of fighting back. Her best retort of the debate was an implication that Coons was envious that a caricature of him did not appear on Saturday Night Live.

O’Donnell’s own attacks against Coons simply reeked of hypocrisy. In particular, she attacked him for an editorial he wrote while in college – “Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist” – implying that he is a professed Marxist. The editorial itself was a joke. As Coons points out “I am not now, and I have never been, anything but a clean-shaven capitalist!” But even had it been a truthful account of how Coons embraced Marxism decades ago, what relevance does it have now? Oh, about as much as O’Donnell’s crusade against masturbation or her dabbles in witchcraft – talking points that O’Donnell dismisses as being too far in the past to consider relevant to her current position, despite both of those being far more recent than Coons’ silly college-aged editorial.

A debate can be won even without resorting to attacks and parries if one’s points are well articulated and well researched. Unfortunately, O’Donnell’s were neither.

Clearly, she came prepared for a speech. She did not consider that maybe the debate’s moderators would actually ask questions about her prepared and oft-repeated talking points. When asked what federal programs she would cut in order to balance the budget without mentioning “waste, fraud and abuse,” O’Donnell responded that she would cut, well, “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Upon prodding from moderators, she still was not able to name a single specific program that she would cut besides an opaque reference to “entitlement programs,” despite several of her earlier statements mentioning that she did not support cuts in Social Security. To quote “The Princess Bride:” “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.”

Coons, in one of the nastier attacks of the debate, also pounced on O’Donnell’s lack of fiscal management knowledge. Mentioning his time as a county executive and his county’s resulting high bond rating, he finished by pointing out that “Ms. O’Donnell is not familiar with how bond ratings work.”

Even worse than her economics slips was her inability to name a single Supreme Court decision that she disagreed with. “Oh gosh, give me a specific one,” O’Donnell responded. When the moderators would not, she stumbled some more until promising to put the answer up on her website. I wonder how Rep. John Boehner’s statement about the Republican Party’s ideological opposition to “Roe v. Wade” applies to a candidate who can’t even refer to the decision by name. There is a significant amount of literature about how the Supreme Court is not a democratic institution. It has many opponents. But, until now, there has been no politician who was this ignorant about its workings. “She forgot. It slipped her mind,” say her defenders, but that is no acceptable defense. O’Donnell wants to become a United States senator – a crucial part of the United States government. It is acceptable for you or me to forget Supreme Court decisions. But for someone running for office in the federal government, forgetting Supreme Court decisions is akin to a mechanic forgetting how to change a tire – it shows clear incompetence in her professed area of expertise.

Clearly, O’Donnell came to the debate expecting to recite well-known talking points that energize her Tea Party base while Coons sits there and makes comments she can lambast as ‘elitist’ or ‘condescending.’ She did not expect to actually debate anyone. She was unprepared for questions. That her notes included nothing on the Supreme Court is appalling. She clearly did not put in the proper time preparing for the debate, or was not aware of what a debate was. All her other faults aside, consider that she was unprepared for a 90-minute debate of a fairly limited scope. Is it right for the people of Delaware then to expect her to prepare sufficiently for a 6-year term in the Senate?

Yaroslav Mikhaylov is a Collegian correspondent. He can be reached at [email protected].