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Assessing Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum as a 2012 Presidential Candidate: Part Two in an Ongoing Series on the Likely Candidates and Their Views on Religion

In Part One in this series of columns, I described a new entrant in the race to become the Republican presidential candidate, Rick Perry, and his attitudes toward religion.  In this column, I will discuss another Rick, also on the Republican side, who caters to a different religious constituency (Catholics, as opposed to Perry’s Baptists), but who is indistinguishable from Perry on many issues: former U.S. Senator for Pennsylvania Rick Santorum.

When Perry threw his hat into the ring, there were those who thought that he would dominate the race.  It turns out that they were correct that he would dominate something, but it has been not the race, but the airwaves.  As a candidate, Perry has uttered some memorable, profoundly stupid, and silly statements, providing the national press, and his opponents, with much merriment this week.

Meanwhile, Santorum, the former Senator from Pennsylvania, is proving himself to be the Catholic version of Perry.  Santorum came in fourth in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll, and apparently views that result as encouraging enough for him to want to stay in the race..  Santorum is worth studying at this point in the race, because he illustrates the issue that poses perhaps the most serious challenge for most of the Republican candidates:  They assume, at their peril, that publicly siding with their particular religious organization and beliefs will pave their road to the White House.  Or, put another way, they tend to assume that if their God is on their side, so will be the American people.

This odd incapacity of so many Republican candidates to grasp the extraordinary diversity of religious believers in the United States is politically irrational.  To see them enthusiastically pounding this path to the election exit door, by adopting strategies certain to alienate large segments of the electorate, is fascinating.

Putting Religion First May Well Be a Serious Mistake for Candidates Such as Perry and Santorum

Perry’s instincts led him to hold a large prayer rally in Houston’s Reliant stadium, for over 30,000 people to pray about the economy, shortly before he announced his candidacy.

Santorum, too, has put religion first and foremost – and began to do so long before now, and in an especially heinous context.  When the Boston Globe broke the news of the Catholic hierarchy’s cover-up of clergy child sex abuse, Santorum’s instinct was to blame liberals, and to defend his Church.  In a move based on an obvious determination to disbelieve what was in front of his very eyes, Santorum went on the offensive.

According to Santorum, Boston had the “problem” because of its liberal culture. That was why there were no problems in Philadelphia, on his theory.

Now, three Philadelphia grand jury reports later, we know for certain that the Philadelphia Archdiocese has the same problem as Boston (and California, and Ireland, and, well, the rest of the world), and that clergy child sex abuse knows no political and no denominational boundaries.

In his comments blaming Boston’s culture, and not its clergy, Santorum showed us in what direction he will go, in the event his favored institution feels threatened; he’ll blame the vulnerable, rather than place responsibility on the powerful where it obviously belongs.  Santorum lacked the moral clarity to seek or see the facts, and his judgment was clouded by his faith, not just in God, but in an institution.

As I discussed in a prior column, Santorum also showed poor judgment when he joined then-Sen. Ted Kennedy to push to get the government’s Old Soldiers’ Home excess land sold to Catholic University at a huge discount.  The old soldiers themselves fought the law, and Congress eventually—and rightfully—forced Catholic University to bid on the property, but Santorum expressed no regrets for selling out American soldiers in an attempt to benefit his own church’s university.   Like Perry, Santorum has treated his religious center as the very center of the universe.

Santorum’s Comments on the Role of Christianity and Religion Generally in the United States Are Offensive

Santorum is fond of painting the left as Christian-haters (completely ignoring the many liberal Christians in the United States).  According to him, there is a “national faith,” which “is rooted in the Christian ideal.”  This country was started, on his theory, by men who share his religious morals, which means that anyone whose morals differ from his own is also, in his view, adverse to our founding fathers – yes, the very ones who penned the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause.

Despite the divisive quality of Santorum’s comments, he actually theorizes—quite incredibly—that by following a preference for the Judeo-Christian tradition, one gets more tolerance, not less.  More specifically, Santorum claims that the “founders believed that if they fostered religion and the Judeo-Christian moral code we would achieve something that was never before seen in a country with so many competing faiths—a truly tolerant, democratic and harmonious public square.”

In June, Santorum declared that “I couldn’t do anything without my faith” and made his case for the Presidency by arguing that “Americans want our leaders to have a reliance on God … . We want leaders who understand that faith is essential to the sustenance of democracy, that faith is an agent for good, that it protects the weak and defenseless, that it motivates people to confront injustice.’ . . . ”

If perchance you think that, here, Santorum, means a generic Judeo-Christian faith in God, it is quite clear that he does not:  He added, “And importantly, it is not just generic faith in God, but the understanding of the world that my Catholicism gives me – the world as it should be, an understanding of human nature and the ordering of our common affairs – that is important to me as a public official.”

When one compares Santorum’s comments as set forth just above to his defensive, thoughtless analysis of the clergy child sex-abuse situation in his own church, one can only conclude that he lacks the ability to transcend his own situation – an ability that is urgently necessary for a president, who must faithfully and impartially serve as a leader of over 310 million people.

Santorum’s unalloyed trust in institutions of faith to protect the vulnerable, to solve society’s problems, and to always do the right thing is precisely what has led to enormous suffering on the part of the countless victims of clergy child sex abuse in the United States and the world.

Unsurprisingly, Santorum Checks Off the Boxes, Opposing Abortion and Gay Marriage on Religious Grounds

Along with Perry and Michele Bachmann, Santorum, on religious grounds, opposes abortion and same-sex marriage. And he’s “pro-family,” in the Republican right’s meaning of the term:  That is, he’s anti-abortion and pro-parent, though not particularly in favor of children’s rights or protections for children.

Santorum clearly equates, in his own mind, his political views and his religious worldview.  According to him, those who support same-sex marriage are working to undermine faith itself.

And Santorum has no time for those who would keep separate – as our Constitution commands —  the messy worlds of politics, government, and religion.  Indeed, according to his friend and fellow Catholic, Sen. Susan Collins, Santorum believes in “‘more of an intertwining of government and religion, and he believes it passionately.’”  No wonder, then, that Santorum openly castigated John F. Kennedy for endorsing the separation of church and state – again, regardless of the fact that Kennedy was merely endorsing the U.S. Constitution.

Santorum also eschews science when such principles come into conflict with his religious positions—for example, in the debate over potentially life-saving stem cells.  Like Perry, he also treats the science of evolution as just one theory among many.

Santorum Claims an Opposition to Big Government, but Quickly Embraces Big Government If To Do So Serves His Own Religious Priorities

Also like Perry, Santorum comes up short when it comes to adhering to the principles that he espouses regarding big government.  Santorum is in favor of federalism—but only until he sees policies that he would like to impose on the full country.  Then, he’s very much in favor of federal-law solutions.

For example, Santorum is very proud of his sponsorship of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Bill, and opposed to the work of Planned Parenthood. Santorum also has said that he would back a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

Moreover, Santorum has also endorsed a federal constitutional amendment to give the power to define marriage to the federal government, and to make marriage only one man-one woman, which would radically alter the current federal/state balance over family and marriage issues and take from the states one of their last bastions of control.  (States have traditionally had sole jurisdiction over family-law issues.)  More than that, Santorum knows it and is fine with that.

Notably, too, Santorum was a big fan of the spectacularly ineffective federal “abstinence-only” sex education program.

Those who will abandon the principle of limited federal government in order to serve their religious ends have shown which principle they favor more.   Ultimately, Santorum must be judged for the policies he has chosen, not just the words he speaks.  He speaks of state power, but opts for policies of federal control.

Perhaps the only truly positive thing that can be said about Santorum is that it is, at least, absolutely clear where he stands.  There would be no surprises with this particular Republican candidate.

Marci A. HamiltonMarci A. Hamilton is the Paul R. Verkuil Chair in Public Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, Yeshiva University, and the author of God vs. the Gavel: The Perils of Extreme Religious Liberty and Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children. She also runs two active websites covering her areas of expertise, the Religious Freedom Restoration Acts, www.RFRAperils.com, and statutes of limitations for child sex abuse, www.sol-reform.com. Professor Hamilton blogs at Hamilton and Griffin on Rights. Her email address is hamilton02@aol.com.
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  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_VU7OBUG4YI24FQ5M5QBWBVZAPY shanen

    One fanatic who is 99% certain to vote is worth more in a pragmatic political sense, than 4 rational people who are each only 20% likely to vote. Isn’t math wonderful?

    Actually, the professional politicians have excellent demographers working for them. So excellent that most voters realize their votes are meaningless. Around 40% never bother voting at all, and I’m convinced that a big chunk and probably most of the residual voters actually vote out of a sense of civic duty. Gerrymandering is especially effective in pre-counting and negating votes before they are ever cast. Perhaps even worse, the people who actually care about politics are more likely to notice their votes don’t matter. It’s the fanatics who don’t care about such irrelevant details.

    Ergo, the way it works now is that 40% or more of the voters can be disregarded, so the ‘real-world majority’ starts at 30%. However, on both sides there are large blocs of voters who are just party line voters, so they get ignored, too. In the few cases where the gerrymandering hasn’t already determined the results, all they need is enough ads to sway a relatively small group of tie-breakers. Citizens United, anyone?

    In conclusion, American democracy was a noble experiment, but it’s on its very last legs.

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