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Posted at 02:01 PM ET, 01/20/2012

Grandiose? Look at yourself, Rick Santorum.


Commentators are giving Rick Santorum a lot of attention for insisting on Thursday night that Republicans didn’t need a “grandiose” leader like Newt Gingrich, or a flip-flopper like Mitt Romney.

“I don’t want a nominee that I have to worry about going out and looking at the paper the next day and figuring out what is he — worrying about what he’s going to say next,” Santorum said at Thursday’s GOP debate.

Except that’s exactly what you need to worry about with Santorum. Rhetorically, few are as grandiose as Gingrich. But, ideologically, Santorum is the most grandiose candidate in the GOP race, save for Ron Paul. Santorum is a stern, moralizing culture warrior, liable to alienate one swing voter after another with his uncompromising pomposity, particularly on social issues.

A line Santorum used at a pro-life forum in South Carolina this week exemplifies his gall: “I don’t believe life begins at conception. I know life begins at conception.”

Speaking in front of a banner that read, “PersonhoodUSA,” Santorum’s point, of course, wasn’t biological — it was theological. He was not merely saying that sperm uniting with egg satisfies some technical definition of basic life; he was arguing that it creates a human with a soul and moral rights identical to those any of us have. And while science tells us when the brain forms and when it begins to function — long past conception — science has not been able to establish whether or when a soul enters any collection of cells.

Santorum’s declaration arrogantly dismissed those who — perfectly reasonably — hold a different view on the question of when human life meaningfully begins, for which there is no definitive answer, and it denigrated those who aren’t sure. It also abused the crucial notion that knowledge can be distinguished from belief. In that, it was subversive to the very underpinnings of modern society, which relies on the rational accumulation and application of hard evidence to do everything from launching space shuttles to designing factories that pump out inexpensive sweater vests.

Finally — and here’s where people of faith should be particularly upset — Santorum’s assertion demeaned belief itself. Those who accept any creed must move beyond the data to an affirmative feeling that something not in evidence is true. Santorum argued that, in the case of when life really begins, no such leap of faith is necessary — that very specific theological principles are obvious. How insulting to those who have struggled to establish their views on the beginnings of human life and the morality of abortion.

Attitudes such as Santorum’s produce extremist Jacobins who would rather see the government not function at all if it doesn’t do precisely what they want.

Does Santorum really believe that his own brand of grandiosity will work in the general election? Maybe he “knows” it will. Most voters outside the GOP base will have had enough of that by November.

By  |  02:01 PM ET, 01/20/2012

 
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