Missing the point on Santorum

Santorum_specterIn the year-end Who’s Next issue, Newsweek‘s Howard Fineman floats the Senator-Rick-Santorum-for-president trial balloon.

The full two-page spread that the story opens with has Santorum standing in his office, a St. Thomas More painting on his right. Drapes open on his left to allow sunlight to stream in, highlighting that side of his body. He has a sort of taciturn forced smile and one hand rests on a jar that promises to deliver Hershey’s Chocolate (he’s from Pennsylvania, get it?).

Further left is a flat-screen television, turned to a Fox News still. The head, shoulders, and staff of a shepherd are visible. The screen caption reads "Should School Songs Exclude the Word ‘Christ’?"

And the article duly plays up Santorum’s Catholic conservative credentials. The headline writer assures us that the senator is "hard at work spreading the GOP gospel" as part of his "crusades" that just might land him in the White House. Again in the second sentence, politics for Santorum is not a way of life but "a bruising crusade."

Once a pothead, Santorum is now "a devout and devoted family man" with "six home-schooled children." As a legislator, he is "determined to champion the [C]hurch’s traditional moral principles in the public square."

Santorum questions the way public schools teach evolution. He thinks that a "constitutionally based right to privacy" is something the Supreme Court made up. Though he wouldn’t himself vote to ban contraception, he believes such things (including sodomy laws) should not be off-limits to state legislatures. His federalism has limits, however; he does back a constitutional amendment to fix the definition of marriage as "one man and one woman."

Only after we’ve gotten through all that do we learn — almost in passing — that Santorum has recently been "stung by criticism from early supporters who view him as an apostate for helping to save the Judiciary Committee chairmanship for his Pennsylvania colleague, moderate (i.e., pro-choice) Arlen Specter."

Talk about burying the lede!

It isn’t only Santorum’s support for Arlen Specter for chair of the Judiciary Committee — after Specter used his election-night victory to hint that he thought Roe v. Wade was settled law and would gavel accordingly — that has "early supporters" hot and bothered. There’s also the not-so-small matter of Representative Pat Toomey’s conservative primary challenge — a race in which Santorum called a pol slightly to the left of himself "too conservative" to be elected to the Senate from Pennsylvania.

Yet Pat Toomey doesn’t even show up in the Newsweek story, which is a bit like telling the story of St. Paul but leaving out the road to Damascus.

To me, the interesting thing about the story of Santorum is what it says about the modern Republican Party. The junior senator from Pennsylvania has succeeded because he is an intriguing mix of conservative Catholic firebrand and GOP hack. There’s a story there that I hope some enterprising journalist will tell.

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  • Dan Crawford

    One ought to pay some attention to some of Santorum’s other deficits: a passionate defender of pharmaceutical profits at the expense of people unable to afford to pay for necessary medications; a rather strange episode where he had a Pittsburgh area school district pay for the home education of his children who are permanently residetnt in VA.

    Santorum talks a good pro-life line; occasionally he does something about it; but he’s a pol just like all his colleagues.

  • http://www.jlleblanc.com Joseph LeBlanc

    Clarification:

    The home education issue is related to Pennsylvania’s Cyber Charter School program, which has been under constant scrutiny since its inception. The funds for the program are deducted per-student from the school district’s share of state funding. At the same time, school districts are required to provide equal access to extracurricular activities for cyber-charter students, but not for homeschoolers.

    The incident with Santorum merely highlights a much more complicated problem. Full details about the specific situation can be found here: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/04345/424753.stm

  • http://gayspirituality.typepad.com Joe Perez

    While I saw nothing wrong with this Newsweek profile, I did find one regrettable omission: it failed to mention the anti-Santorum fad in pop culture, for example:

    http://www.spreadingsantorum.com/

    No consideration of Santorum’s prospects for the presidency would be complete without mentioning the new meaning of santorum.

  • mali

    It saddens me that you have not seen fit to mention the catastrophe that has overtaken South Asia in the past few days, if only to ask for prayers for its victims.

  • http://www.ecumenicalinsanity.net Athanasius

    That’s charming, Joe. Thanks for sharing. Nice to know where the moral high ground is these days.

  • http://jeremiads.blogspot.com Jeremy Lott

    Mali,

    I can’t fault the sentiment but this is a religion media criticism website. That said, stay tuned.

    Jeremy

  • http://gayspirituality.typepad.com Joe Perez

    Athanasius: You’re the only one who ever claimed to be standing on a “moral high ground.” I think it’s relevant to the topic of exploring “the Santorum phenomenon” that the anti-Santorum sentiment has infiltrated pop culture in the way that it has. Santorum is the new Jesse Helms, maybe even more villified, if that’s possible. That’s newsworthy.

  • Stephen A.

    I heard Sen. Santorum speak in New Hampshire earlier this year. He spoke about the need for our society to have more children to support social security – an issue I thought was prescient, given the future demographic disaster we’re likely to face in the nation by mid-century.

    He noted that he has done his part by having six children of his own.

    He also spoke on moral issues but at that time, had not decided whether to support the Gay Marriage amendment, which he said was a “state issue.” Clearly, that has changed.

    I’m not sure if he’s presidential material, but he was a gifted speaker and took tough questions from the audience and handled them well.

    Also, I believe the picture in his office is of St. Thomas *MORE* (typo in the blog story.)

    Stephen A.

  • http://getreligion.typepad.com/getreligion/2004/02/about_douglas_l.html Douglas LeBlanc

    Thanks for the correction, Stephen. It’s an error that two of us should have caught sooner. I’m changing it now.

  • http://www.ecumenicalinsanity.net Athanasius

    Joe: Pardon me. I meant “moral low ground.” I can certainly see why an examination of the “Santorum phenomenon” would require including the gay equivalent of adolescent bathroom humor, “pop culture” being in the state of wretched decay that it is.

  • http://gayspirituality.typepad.com Joe Perez

    Athanasius: I believe it was the Senator who earned nicknames like “Mr. Beastiality” for himself for bringing up the subject. btw, santorum (the frothy one) even gets a discussion in the Wikipedia

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Savage_Love


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