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Christine O'Donnell rival: Is he Delaware's 'bearded Marxist'?

Christine O'Donnell deflected her dabbling in witchcraft as teenage rebellion Tuesday, suggesting that the early life of Chris Coons, her Senate rival, be subjected to the same level of scrutiny.

By Staff writer / September 22, 2010

Delaware Republican Senate candidate Christine O'Donnell delivered remarks at Values Voter Summit in Washington on Sept. 17.

Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP

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Christine O’Donnell is not hiding from the fact that she dabbled in witchcraft in her youth. She’s making light of it, instead. On Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Tuesday night, the Delaware Republican Senate candidate described her witch period as an episode of teenage rebellion.

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“Who didn’t do some questionable things in high school, and who doesn’t regret the ‘80s to some extent?” she told Mr. Hannity.

(Who doesn’t regret the ‘80s? People born before the ‘60s, that’s who. We had hair then, and it wasn’t gray. Also, GOP icon Ronald Reagan was president for pretty much that entire decade, wasn’t he?)

Then Ms. O’Donnell made the point that if she was going to be held responsible for things she did before she knew better, the media also should look at her opponent Chris Coons. The student-age Coons may have expressed interest in something like witchcraft, only worse: communism.

“He made some very anti-American statements apologizing for America and calling himself a ‘bearded Marxist,’ ” said O’Donnell on Fox.

Is O’Donnell right about this?

Well, as a student at Amherst College in Massachusetts in the mid-1980s, Mr. Coons did write a story for the student paper titled “Chris Coons: The Making of a Bearded Marxist.”

The photo accompanying the article shows him clean-shaven, so the “bearded” reference may be metaphoric, or something like that.

The story talks about how Coons entered college as a firm believer in the GOP. He campaigned for Reagan in 1980 and helped found the Amherst Young Republicans.

Then, as a sophomore, he took Cultural Anthropology, and learned to question the moral superiority of the West. He took a class on the Vietnam War, which, he writes, painted in vivid detail “a picture of the horrible failures made possible by American hubris and dogmatism.”

Then came the final blow: Coons spent spring of his junior year in Kenya on a study program. He lived with a poor family, then heard the Kenyan elites describe the poor as too lazy to get ahead, which bugged him because he didn’t think that was true.

“Experiences like this warned me that my own favorite beliefs in the miracles of free enterprise and the boundless opportunities to be had in America might be largely untrue,” Coons wrote in 1985.

Nowhere in the story does Coons actually call himself a Marxist, a communist, or any "ist" of any kind. However, he does say that he “studied under a bright and eloquent Marxist professor at the University of Nairobi.”

(Also, there are no references to pentagrams or worshiping at a satanic altar, just in case you were wondering.)

Coons today says the “bearded Marxist” reference was tongue-in-cheek.

“I am not now, nor have I ever been, a Marxist or an enemy of the people of the United States,” he said Tuesday night on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Well, we’ll get to hear this hashed out between the Delaware Senate opponents in mid-October. University of Delaware officials said Wednesday that O’Donnell and Coons have agreed to a 90-minute debate at U of D campus on Oct. 13.

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