Sunday, April 8, 2012

Where His Heart Lies

My old friend Leon calls it “bringing the fire.” When someone cares about an issue, he will share his views when prompted to, and it will usually be clear that he arrived at those views fairly. But when he cares about an issue, he will ramble about it whether prompted or not, and it will seem that his views are driven more by emotion than intellect.

Each of us has at least one “bring the fire” subject. For John McEnroe it’s tennis officiating, for Al Gore it’s global warming, and for Rick Santorum it’s Catholic teaching, specifically when it comes to anything that touches the sexual realm.

As a conservative, criticizing Santorum does not feel good. The unapologetic way he has carried the pro-life flag onto so many Normandies is admirable, and the wounds he has taken from leftist fire on those Normandies assures us that he will not sell out. However, Santorum’s philosophy goes far beyond protecting the unborn and upholding the sanctity of life, and that is why he will never win a national election.

Modesty is one of conservatism’s defining traits: Modesty about the ability of government to direct the economy, for sure, but also modesty about man’s power in the face of nature. This modesty is manifested by conservatism’s understanding that all humans are fallible and that grand designs drawn up by humans always have unintended consequences. When it comes to religion, most conservatives believe the divine is so complex that no human can have a monopoly on perceiving the will of God. Tying all these things together, conservatives believe that a lack of modesty will result in far more bad than good when it comes to crafting public policy.

Unfortunately, Rick Santorum and modesty often seem to be strangers, as illustrated by the reflexive way he reverts to talking about those old sexual-realm dogmas.

Although the brouhaha over him saying that as president he would talk about “the dangers of contraception” has faded, that brouhaha is illustrative. He made that comment when responding to a question that had nothing to do with contraception. He then complained about the resulting media coverage, but as Ramesh Ponnuru points out, it was Santorum, not the media, who brought the issue up.

There is obviously nothing wrong with talking about the downsides of contraception, but such talk has nothing to do with the office of President of the United States. For that matter, it has nothing to with the government of the United States at any level. Contraception is a personal matter that the government should stay out of.

Even if a president was to merely talk about contraception, as opposed to issuing executive orders regarding it, the talking would seem to suggest a serious case of misplaced priorities: Why is he rambling about condoms and birth control pills when the economy is collapsing and our enemies are trying to annihilate us?

As it turns out, the economy is collapsing and our enemies are trying to annihilate us, but Santorum always seems more interested in matters of personal virtue. Those matters are obviously important, but they are the business of preachers and authors, not politicians; and if Santorum wants to affect America’s attitude toward them, he should apply for a job other than head of the federal government.

But what does the contraception flap have to do with modesty, or lack thereof? Well, the majority of conservatives -- indeed, the majority of pro-life conservatives -- have no moral qualms about contraception, so for Santorum to declare it sinful shows an immodesty that is so large it pits pro-lifer against pro-lifer. This, from a man seeking to win a general election amongst the population at large.

Not long ago, Santorum was asked what he made of the fact that more Catholics support Mitt Romney than him. He responded by saying that he receives more support than Romney among Catholics who take their faith “seriously.” So, are we to suppose that he believes Catholics who don’t vote for him are only pseudo-Catholic? This is perhaps the most arrogant statement by a presidential candidate in my lifetime, made even worse by its religious nature which presumes that his arguments bear the gravity of salvation and damnation.

Bernard Goldberg is the kind of decent middle-of-the-road American whose votes are likely to decide the election in November. He has written, “I think deep down, Rick Santorum would like to set up a neat little theocracy here in secular America just to make sure we’re all living moral lives -- as he sees it.” And given the eagerness with which Santorum charges into the judgmental fray, how can we counter that statement? We can’t, because if we are honest with ourselves we have to agree with him.

Conservatives, especially religious conservatives, have long been stereotyped as wanting to “impose their views on others.” This is patently unfair because modern American history contains countless more examples of liberals trying to impose their views than it does of conservatives trying to do so. The last thing we need is for Santorum to receive the GOP nomination and lend plausibility to the slander.

The United States was founded largely on Judeo-Christian principles, and I believe those principles must be kept in society’s forefront if we are to maintain the freedom we hold dear. But keeping them in the forefront is the job of society, through any number of religious and civic institutions. It is not the job of the federal government, whose duties are explicitly enumerated in a Constitution that forbids it from making any “law respecting an establishment of religion…”

Like the scorpion who stung the frog in the middle of the stream, Santorum always goes back to religious opinion because, well, that is what he does. Religion is what’s dear to his heart and that is certainly not bad. It’s just that he should be contending to head a movement, not to head a government.


Barb said...

Hello John, I came by to say I hope you and your family had a Happy Easter. Now, I see you're pulling me in to the fire! I think my son and you would have some great discussions. Hope all is well there in FL.

Betsy from Tennessee said...

Hi John, Interesting read tonight.... We voted here in TN for Santorium--but the longer this has gone on, I tend to agree with you more and more. We liked him because of his convictions--but you are right, his heart is not into fixing the economy like it should be.

Like so many other Republicans, we have been skeptical of Romney from the beginning... In fact, we haven't cared for any of the Republicans who are running... (Who would blame others though for NOT running??? The media will eat them up.)

With that all being said, I now am behind Romney and we definitely will vote for him. However, I'm not sure that he (or any of the others) can beat Obama. Too many apathetic people see Obama as some kind of celebrity --and they will vote for him again no matter how poorly he has done.

IF he gets reelected, our wonderful country as we know it will gone after his 2nd term... We will become Greece or who knows what kind of country... Scary to think of---and I get very depressed and upset.

Thanks for listening.

Fred Alton said...

Good morning, John! Even after carefully reading your assessment of the situation, I'd still rather have Santorum than Romney. It's my view that the economy is not the heart of our country's problem. 2 Chronicles 7:14 is addressed to those who consider themselves to be God's people. Why would anyone be so naieve as to think that it's not the economy? Maybe it's just my "fire" which you spoke of coming through. Smile. It's the faith of our fathers being abandoned that's at the crux of our difficulties. (Again, my view). Of course, I plan to vote for the GOP nominee because whoever he is, he will be the better answer for leadership in our land than the current President.