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Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What Santorum's Satan speech reveals about Rick Santorum

Let's face it. Santorum's Satan speech was a weird speech for a presidential candidate. Perhaps in the context of a speech given by a religious man at a religious institution, it wasn't out of the ordinary. But it just plays into the narrative that the media will take and run with - Santorum's social conservatism. And any discussion of social issues is time not spent talking about the faults of President Obama. Santorum might want to get off the topic, the media will keep sucking him back in like Al Pacino in Godfather III. Even beyond how jarring the Satan speech sounds in a political context, Josh Barro notes the real problem with Santorum's argument that Satan is having success in America today.
Here’s how Santorum opened his discussion of Satan in America (emphasis mine):
If you were Satan, who would you attack, in this day and age? There is no one else to go after, other than the United States. And that’s been the case for now almost 200 years, once America’s pre-eminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers. He didn’t have much success in the early days—our foundation was very strong, in fact, is very strong. But over time, that great, acidic quality of time corrodes away even the strongest foundations. And Satan has done so, by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality…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.
The issue is not that Santorum favors slavery or Indian removal—if prompted, I’m sure he would agree strongly that these were great evils. But how does somebody look at the history of American society and see a country that was more Godly under Andrew Jackson than it is today? The answer is by focusing only on the rights and treatment of white, Christian men. When some conservatives and libertarians make paeans to a lost period of American greatness, they are treating the perspectives of women and minorities as if they don’t exist, or don’t count.
We could add in the treatment of immigrant groups in the 19th century and members of Santorum's own religion, Catholics. It was back in that time when politicians would regularly preach against the dangers that Catholics represented to the Protestant fabric of our nation. Whatever one's complaints against "pride, vanity, and sensuality," we are indeed fortunate in the progress we have made in recent decades. That's a strong point and a revealing one about Santorum's mindset.


KBMexicana said...

ha my first thought when I heard this speech was, "What about Andrew Jackson and the trail of tears? That wasn't exactly godly now was it?!?"

This guy could use a re-cap on his US history!

-Kaye Becca

Cato Renasci said...

You're an historian, so I am very surprised you do not have a more nuanced view of 19th century American Protestant hostility towards Roman Catholicism, which needs to be considered on levels other than the crude xenophobia expressed in popular hostility to immigrants from Catholic countries (including the Irish with whom the English had long had a troubled relationship).

The views of the Church throughout the 19th century were hostile to the ideas of individual liberty, economic liberty, and separation of church and state based on Locke and the Anglo-Scottish enlightenment, Whiggery, and the English legal tradition: implacably so under the ultramontane Pius IX and profoundly under Leo XIII who wrote against "Americanism" and capitalism in the late 19th century. This was a time the Roman Church still held temporal power (until 1870 in the Papal States), opposed even religious toleration, and imposed its views into secular law in the many countries where it was the established church.

It was not necessarily bigoted to take what the Roman Church said about political matters and the role of the church seriously, and hence to be concerned about its involvement in American public life.

One of the key aspects of American exceptionalism is the chief corollary to the axiom that being American is a matter of choice, not birth or blood: that in order to become an American, one must embrace the fundamental principles of the Constitution, which includes the separation of church and state.

One can reasonably be suspicious of those who profess a creed whose leaders explicitly rejected fundamental American Constitutional principles.