Angry Rick Santorum ‘throws up’ on JFK

After seeing some of the comments made by Rick Santorum over the weekend, I can only conclude that the former senator from Pennsylvania is one angry dude. As The Post’s Nia-Malika Henderson reports today, Santorum lashed out at the late President John F. Kennedy over religion and current President Barack Obama over education. Not only was what he said that of someone with his gaze permanently affixed in the rearview mirror, but his tone was also heavy on the put-downs and light on the presidential. Let’s start with Kennedy and religion.

Santorum told ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos yesterday that he was less than enamored with Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech on religion in graphic terms.

To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up and it should make every American. . . . Now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square.

Throw up? How vivid. Santorum has said this before. But that was when he wasn’t a serious contender for the Oval Office. He has yet to learn that part of getting people to see you as president is to act and speak presidentially (read, measured).

Santorum went on to say, “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” And then this: “The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion. That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square. Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, no, ‘faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate.’”

Joan Walsh over at Salon has a terrific deep dive on what Kennedy actually said, which is the opposite of Santorum’s characterization. “Of course, there’s no place in Kennedy’s speech where he said ‘people of faith are not allowed in the public square,’ or anything close to that, and Santorum’s saying it three times doesn’t make it true.” Courtesy of Walsh, here is what Kennedy said:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.

Santorum, of all people, should agree wholeheartedly with Kennedy. The forward-thinking president’s words ought to be used by Santorum to protect himself against suspicions that he would seek to impose his religious and moral beliefs on the rest of us. Unfortunately, he has inflamed those suspicions with past and present comments about contraception, pre-natal testing, abortion and other social issues.

Kennedy tried to allay fears that he would take orders from the Vatican with his speech before his historic election as the nation’s first Catholic president. Santorum’s constant moralizing in the primaries might go over with conservatives. But it will have the opposite effect in the general election. Americans don’t like to be told what to do by apostles from the Church of BTT — Better Than Thou. Those folks tend to be mired in anger, harsh judgments and the past.

Jonathan Capehart is a member of the Post editorial board and writes about politics and social issues for the PostPartisan blog.


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