Christine O’Donnell’s Delaware Senate campaign got an undeserved jolt when she debated Democratic opponent Chris Coons at Widener University Law School in Wilmington. “Where in the Constitution is separation of church and state?” O’Donnell asked him, drawing gasps and laughter from the crowd. But it was Coons and the crowd, not O’Donnell, who made a common mistake: conflating Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptists (Jan. 1, 1802) with the First Amendment. The former speaks of “a wall of separation between church and state”; the latter says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Some Founders, such as Jefferson, thought the First Amendment implied a wall of separation; others did not. Washington’s Farewell Address (written with Alexander Hamilton) called “religion and morality . . . indispensable supports” to “political prosperity.” If O’Donnell loses, maybe she can give a course at Widener.
At a Tea Party Express rally in mid-October, Sarah Palin cautioned the audience that it wasn’t time yet to “party like it’s 1773.” A swarm of Twitter commentators immediately pounced on her glaring historical gaffe. “WTF happened in 1773?” sneered one liberal expert (who normally blogs about wine). “She’s so smart,” mocked Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos. Gwen Ifill of PBS simply reposted Palin’s remark followed by “ummm.” The only problem was that, as someone eventually pointed out, Palin had the year right: The original Boston Tea Party took place in 1773. That quickly stifled the meme. As Palin might say, there is no sweeter sound than when dead silence replaces the cackle of rads.