Saturday, March 3, 2012

Santorum Rips JFK, Runs As Evangelical


“Vomit” and “throw up” are not words one expects to come out of the mouth (pardon the pun) of a candidate for president.* It’s even more shocking to hear Rick Santorum, a lifelong Roman Catholic, use these vulgarities to describe his reaction to a seminal speech on religious freedom and the separation of church and state, delivered more than 50 years ago by John F. Kennedy, the only Catholic elected to the presidency of this republic since its founding.

Are we supposed to believe that Santorum’s crude rejection of JFK’s historic address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association is just another gaffe? Or is something more devious at work on the part of this career politician?

By trashing the arguments that once enabled a Massachusetts moderate to get beyond the anti-Catholic bigotry of powerful Southern Democrats, Santorum is positioning himself in direct opposition to the only successful Catholic candidate for president in the past 223 years. By retching at the signal legacy of the nation’s first Catholic president, Santorum is (i) distancing himself from conventional American Catholicism over the past half-century and (ii) repackaging himself as the de facto Evangelical candidate still in the race. When it comes to the relationship of church and state, family and society, religion and the public square—candidate Santorum seeks to reassure Evangelical voters that he is nothing like JFK. He shares their moral values; he stands with them; he’s virtually born again.

Santorum’s political calculation seems to be working. Exit polls in recent GOP primaries/caucuses confirm that he is significantly favored by voters who identify themselves as “Evangelical” and “very conservative.” Given his less-than-conservative fiscal record during his 16 years in Congress, it’s a safe bet that “very conservative” actually means “socially conservative.” Equally telling, Santorum fails to win the majority of voters who identify themselves as “Catholic.” Their votes mainly go to Romney, as do the majority of voters self-identifying as “conservative” or “somewhat conservative.”

There is absolutely nothing wrong with Santorum’s political play for the votes of Evangelicals, social conservatives, or anyone else. That is not the point.

The reason why Santorum’s remarks about JFK’s speech are so reprehensible is their breathtaking ignorance of American history. Can Santorum, the recipient of three college degrees, be so uninformed about the central religious issue on which JFK’s candidacy was challenged? The critical question that JFK had to answer before a key group of Democrats would support him was this: Would he act solely in fidelity to the presidential oath of office and his own conscience? Or, being a Roman Catholic, would he owe his ultimate allegiance to the Supreme Roman Pontiff, a.k.a. the Pope? Hence, the rigor of JFK’s assurances about the separate spheres of church and state. Hence, his moving allusion to his brother’s and his own costly service to their country during World War II. In 1960, because he was a Catholic, JFK had to prove he was American enough to serve as president.

This is what Santorum doesn’t get. Or, if he does get it, he crassly denigrates this pivotal moment in American presidential history for short-term political gain. Because of JFK’s landmark speech and his election only two months later, American Catholic politicians no longer have to fend off the specter of papal interference and similar prejudice if they want to run for president. Were it not for JFK’s achievement, such illustrious names as Giuliani, McDonnell, Christie, Ryan, Rubio, Jindal, Gingrich, and even Santorum might never have found their way into the lexicon of potential presidential hopefuls.

But this is not the end of the story.

In 2007, some 47 years after JFK’s address to Southern Baptists, a Republican presidential candidate from Massachusetts took the podium in College Station, Texas, to explain his views on “Faith in America.” That candidate was Mitt Romney. His supporters had urged him to deal head-on with the misconceptions and prejudices about his Mormon faith. Citing JFK’s groundbreaking speech, Romney offered his own sweeping, unapologetic vision of (1) the role of religion in American life, (2) the Constitution’s prohibition against any religious test for public office, and (3) the Founders’ unwavering commitment to religious freedom. At the risk of rejection by a few closed minds, Romney said he would never disavow the faith of his fathers: “Americans tire of those who would jettison their beliefs, even to gain the world.”

Romney didn’t win his party’s nomination in 2008. The effectiveness of his highly praised speech in quelling anti-Mormon bigotry was never put to the test. He is now the frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2012. If successful, he will inherit JFK’s burden and opportunity. Because Romney is a Mormon—and because this country has never elected a Mormon to the presidency—he will have to prove he is sufficiently ingrained into the American religious fabric to serve as president. That shouldn’t be too hard. Mormonism is one of the few authentically American religions in our history.

And what are we to do with Santorum’s repulsive rhetoric about bodily disgorging? Maybe we can put it to some use. Surely, as a Catholic, Santorum will be the first to agree that a religious test for public office (Is he a Christian?) and religious bigotry against one’s fellow Americans (Isn’t that a cult?) really do deserve a barf bag.

Areté
3 March 2012
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*Santorum’s subsequent half-hearted, half-laughing comment that he wishes he could take back this particular line is not worthy of comment.

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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Once again, nicely put, Arete.

-Martha

dgenetaylor said...

Very interesting. Thanks.

Machtyn said...

Yeah... After stating the line, then repeating and reaffirming the line, he finally wishes he could take it back?

In the end, this is small potatoes, but it does point to character (which some voters seem not to care about.)

Publius Nemo said...

Great Post!

Lionhead said...

Arete, I see you did a set up post here for Publius Nemo to finish the argument. Has the religious 'venom' exited you yet or are we to be exposed to more religious attacks/praises for the candidates? When I was allowed to post articles here, Boaman advised me of the off limits subjects, two of which were family & religion. So, now I note that two religious articles have been posted today & Publius' post received a kudo from Bosman. So, has the policy changed now?

You are falling into the trap described by Barry Goldwater long ago. Namely, when party members start down the road of religious ideologies the bickering begins that will either persuade or dissuade party members & general voters to or against a candidate. In the end, it is a failed strategy that can loose elections. Is this the price you're willing to pay to nominate Romney in the win at all costs strategy? Remember, the more you draw out the lines of ideology the more blowback you may suffer later on. Your characterization of Santorum here is strongly opinionated & necessarily biased to your belief system. Others may not be so inclined to agree with your arguments. I'm not. I see this a just more campaign rhetoric in which key 'code words' are patched into a very vile negative format by you.

So, here we go again once more down the road of the "religious card" trick, the same as the Marxist/Socialists play with the race issue. Whether you agree with me or not, it is not a conservative value & to pursue this is bringing you down in the mud with the Marxist/Socialists. Is that where you want to be?

I will be addressing Publius' remarks next for his part in this. In the meantime, the real campaign issues for Romney remain unanswered. I have raised three in the "Rush Limbaugh is a Dirty Slut" post. Perhaps you can spend some time to answer those issues instead of creating a 'smokescreen' around Santorum. I'll be waiting & please enough prose about bodily fluids, responses & recepticles.

Deila Taylor said...

Excellant writing in this post -- you have accurately put to paper truths that need to be aired. thank you.