Sanctum Santorum

You gotta admire Rick Santorum’s honesty. I suspect that most politicians hope that the majority of voters will not have sufficient education to see through at least some of the things they claim. After all, anyone who studies economics will know that no president can guarantee a booming economy no matter what policies they propose or campaign promises they make. Rick Santorum, however, had the honesty to say that he hopes you will be poorly-informed enough to vote for him, and to not realize when he is making false claims (as Fred Clark documents in relation to some of his statements about euthanasia in the Netherlands).

That level of honesty is rather remarkable indeed – even if it is an ironic sort of honesty, wanting people uneducated so that they won’t catch when he is being dishonest!

If one is educated, they will also see all sorts of problems with his view of the separation of church and state. Historically, his own faith, Roman Catholicism, has benefited from this separation, and since being a Catholic candidate for president, and then a Catholic president for the first time in U. S. history, was still controversial, in ways that it is hard for many today to imagine, it is not surprising that Kennedy’s view might be viewed differently by someone today.

Now of course, there are more and less charitable ways of interpreting what Santorum has said. What he describes himself as advocating instead of a “strict separation of church and state,” namely “the free exercise of religion — that means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square” – is in fact what we already have. The very fact that Santorum is campaigning while talking openly about his faith is evidence of that. But at best, Santorum is setting up a false antithesis. What he describes as his own view in the quoted statement is nothing other than the “separation of church and state” in the form in which it is currently understood: the candidates are not prohibited from having faith or talking about their faith. They are prohibited from using any public office they may hold to impose their faith or hinder the faith of others.

Pandering to the religious has never been illegal. But the combination of religiosity and lack of education, which Santorum wants in voters if not in himself, is potentially volatile, precisely because it leaves people open to being persuaded by religious rhetoric, and to failing to realize when they are being manipulated and pandered to.

Some take a more pessimistic view of Santorum’s stance, understanding him to advocate a theocracy. If they are right, then if he were to be elected, he would get precisely the sort of education in practice that is supposedly bad to get in college or university. If Santorum is indeed a theocrat rather than merely someone who panders to those constituencies and leaves his words open to being interpreted favorably by them, then were he to be elected president, he would soon discover that the system of checks and balanced, the first amendment, and judicial precedent would prevent him from simply doing whatever he wishes as regards the wedding of (his) faith and state.

But one need not be elected president to learn these things. They are also covered in the education one is likely to get at most universities and colleges.


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