Tea partiers tend to revere the U.S. Constitution in much the same way that many American evangelicals revere the Bible, which is to say they read it without comprehension, looking only for ammunition that can be used against their enemies. And since neither text was written for such a purpose, this so-called reverence is an exercise in illiteracy.
Tea party candidate Christine O'Donnell provided a classic example of this obtuse proof-texting illiteracy recently, accusing President Barack Obama of violating the Constitution through the century-old American convention of nicknaming ad hoc executive branch appointments "czars."
Article I, Section 9 says no title of nobility should be granted by the United States, there you go. I would say to President Obama that czar is a title of nobility and therefore unconstitutional.
Words fail me, so let's go with pictures:
For the record, that's five "czars" (all but the first appointed by Republican presidents), six kings, five queens, four princes, two counts, Lord Charles, Sir Charles and the Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke and Earl, Duke, Duke …
Once again Christine O'Donnell provides us with an assertion that limits our possible interpretation to two and only two possibilities: Stupid or evil.
"Stupid or evil?" is really just a way of exploring whether or not someone has provided sufficient evidence for us to conclude that they are not acting in good faith. The distinction may not seem to matter much, practically. A responsible citizen does not need to know precisely whether O'Donnell is really so astonishingly stupid as to believe what she's saying here or so mendacious that she does not care that it is ridiculously false. Either way, she is clearly unfit for office.
But the distinction matters with regard to how we respond to O'Donnell and her followers. If they are acting in good faith out of sincere, if staggeringly vast, stupidity, then we must attempt to correct them, committing ourselves with all the patience we can muster to teach them true things to replace the monumentally false things they have come to believe.
But if they are not acting in good faith — if O'Donnell and her angry faction realize that what they are saying is untrue yet insist on saying it anyway — then we are free to condemn them. Not just free to, but obliged to — we have a duty to do so.
Christine O'Donnell has made dozens of contradictory statements about her personal finances, her history, her foreclosure, her suspected personal use of campaign funds. Those contradictory statements have earned her a measure of distrust. Whether we want to or not, it is not possible to believe everything she says because it is not possible to reconcile everything she says.
Yet still that doesn't prove conclusively that she is acting in bad faith. Perhaps she is profoundly confused about reality. She may be, as the chairman of Delaware's Republican Party described her, "delusional" — yet sincerely delusional, deluded in good faith.
But here, with this claim that President Obama has been conferring "titles of nobility," I think we have convincing evidence that she simply cannot be this stupid. No one is. No one could be. It is not conceivable that she believes what she is saying. It is not conceivable that she is acting in good faith.
The presidency of George W. Bush is not such a distant memory that she can have forgotten his appointment of more than 30 such "czars." Christine O'Donnell has shared platforms with former "drug czar" Bill Bennett and has heard him introduced as such. It beggars belief that she really took this to mean that Bennett had been conferred a "title of nobility" — that his eldest son would one day inherit the chairmanship of the Office on National Drug Policy, perhaps arranging an alliance though marriage with some daughter of former homeland security "czar" Tom Ridge and uniting their kingdoms.
No one is that stupid. And that leaves only one other possible explanation.