Mullah Rick has spoken.
He wants religion returned to “the public square,” is opposed to contraception, premarital sex and abortion under any circumstances, wants children educated in what amounts to little red schoolhouses and called President Obama a “snob” for extolling college or some other kind of post-high school education. This is not a political platform. It’s a fatwa.
But that’s not all. On the Sunday shows he even lit into John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech to Protestant ministers in Houston, in which he called for the strict separation of church and state. Santorum said the speech sickened him.
“What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?” Santorum asked George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week.” “That makes me throw up.”
Earlier, he said, “I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” not noticing that he was speaking from what amounts to the public square.
Kennedy’s speech is actually a sad document, a necessary attempt to combat the bigoted and ignorant notion that a Catholic president might take orders from the Vatican. He told the ministers in attendance that he believed “in a president whose views on religion are his own private affair, neither imposed upon him by the nation, nor imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”
Oddly, the assurances that Kennedy offered that day are ones that I would like to hear from Santorum. He, too, is a Catholic, although not of the Kennedy variety. Santorum is severe and unamusing about his faith, and that is his prerogative. But he has shoved his beliefs in our faces, leaving no doubt that his presidency would be informed by his extremely conservative Catholicism. Santorum’s views are too conservative even for most Catholics.
This is a perilous and divisive approach. We have all of world history to warn us about what happens when religion takes too prominent a role. The public square gets used for beheadings and the like. While that is not likely to happen now — zoning rules and such forbid it — we do know that layering religion over politics is dangerous. Santorum cannot impose — and should not argue — that his political beliefs come from God. That closes all debate and often infuriates those who differ.
This belief that religion has been banished from public discussion is a conservative trope without foundation. New York City is now recovering from a frenzy of celebratory publicity regarding the elevation of Timothy Dolan to cardinal. We have applauded the feats of Tim Tebow, the so-called praying quarterback, who seems unintimidated in publicly expressing his religious convictions. And, of course, we have the prattling of Newt Gingrich, who believes in belief and believes you and I ain’t got any — certainly not if we vote Democratic. As any European can attest, the American public square is soaked in religion or religion-speak.
Santorum’s views on the place of religion and his quaint ideas about education are so anachronistic they would be laughable. But whenever I start to giggle a bit, I find that some absurd statement resonates with Republican primary voters. On the other hand, when Rick Perry said it was fine to help the children of undocumented immigrants go to college, he got pilloried for it. When Gingrich balked at deporting literally millions of people, he was excoriated. Every time some Republican says something sensible, the roof falls in on him.
But for nutty ideas, Santorum is a one-man band. His intellectually abhorrent defense of what might be called blue-collar culture — no education past high school — is a prescription for failure. What he calls their “desires and dreams” is a sucker’s game: Welcome to an economy that can provide few, if any, jobs for the minimally educated. And his jibe at Obama for wanting to do something about it is not politics as usual — it’s just plain irresponsible.
Rick Santorum is not, as some would have it, the Republican Party’s problem. The GOP is half the political equation, and so its inability to offer candidates of sound views and judgments is everyone’s problem. We have to vote for someone after all. But when I mull Santorum’s views on contraception, the role of women, the proper place for religion and what he thinks about education, I think he’s either running for president of the wrong country or marooned in the wrong century. The man is lost.
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