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Right Turn
Posted at 06:30 PM ET, 02/21/2012

Why social conservatives shouldn’t rush to defend Santorum

This was entirely predictable: As soon as the media started covering Rick Santorum’s past and present statements, which now even talk show host enemy of the MSM and liberal elites, Rush Limbaugh finds unusual, Santorum and his aides begin to whine. The press is spending too much time on this. The media is out to destroy him. But why complain about direct quotations and video of him expressing his heartfelt views?

He is the one who put the family and social issues at the heart of his campaign. He is the one who contends these are popular positions, at least within the GOP. So why should he complain?

Rich Lowry makes an effort to defend Santorum from the media but falls short in large part because he fails to explain that it is not “social conservatism” per se that has set off alarm bells, but a particular form of hectoring, reactionary rhetoric that disturbs many voters, including conservatives. Lowry is not accurately capturing why there is outrage, and indeed shock, over Santorum’s comments when he writes: “It’s no accident that the Republican candidate most committed to the traditional family and associated virtues is also the one who talks most about the struggles of the working class. He frequently cites research from the Brookings Institution showing that simply getting a high-school diploma, getting a job, and getting married before having children — the so-called success sequence — are powerful tools against poverty.”

It does a disservice to the debate to say merely that Santorum “occasionally needs to curb his enthusiasms.” Santorum’s denunciation of the president’s theology and of Christian denominations, his writings on working women (has Lowry read the book?), his crusade against contraception and prenatal testing and his view that the Devil has corrupted American institutions are not remotely commonplace social-conservative views, especially coming from a presidential candidate. In fact, social conservatives should be the most alarmed, because he threatens to discredit them and cement stereotypes that they are judgmental and extreme in their views. He threatens to do great damage to a movement that has made enormous progress on a range of issues.

Peter Wehner writes: “The main (though not exclusive) problem for Santorum is his rhetorical approach to social issues. He's said he would be the one president who would talk about the damage contraception does to American society. He's spoken quite openly about criminalizing doctors who perform abortions. He's made a passionate case against prenatal testing. He's been quite forthright in his views against homosexual acts, about women in combat, and about women in the workforce. He's given a speech in which he's said Satan has systematically targeted the key institutions in American life. The danger for Santorum is that, fairly or not, these statements and stands, separately and (especially) combined, create a portrait of a person who is censorious and sits in critical judgment of the lifestyle of most Americans.” As Peter says in typical understated fashion, “The prospect of an American president using the ‘bully pulpit’ to speak out about the dangers and damaging effects of contraception on American society (including among married couples) is not a reassuring one.” Horrifying, is more like it.

But there is more. Josh Barro argues: “Let’s think back to what America was like almost 200 years ago. Slavery was legal, indeed enshrined in our Constitution by our Founding Fathers. The federal government was forcibly removing American Indians from their lands, leading to thousands of deaths. Women couldn’t vote and were limited in their rights to own property. And yet, Santorum sees Satan wielding more influence and having more success in America today than he did then.” In other words, Santorum is the ultimate advocate of the myth of America’s inevitable decline.

If the conservative movement and the GOP cannot distinguish between social issues for which there is support among average voters and those for which is there is practically none or between effective proponents of their views and those that scare, alarm and repulse ordinary Americans, especially women, they are in deep trouble, not just in this election. They have fallen prey to Pauline Kael syndrome if they actually believe Santorum’s views and tone are and will be popular with a majority of Americans.

By  |  06:30 PM ET, 02/21/2012

 
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