When I was growing up in the 1950s (yes, I’m THAT old), anti-communist crusaders had a handy phrase with which they shouted down any criticism of American government: “Love it or leave it.” There was, in their view, no room for middle ground–if you weren’t a patriot, defined as someone who defended 100% of what America was and did, then you needed to move elsewhere.
Apparently, the love it or leave it folks are back–albeit in slightly different philosophical garb–and they are enthusiastically supporting Rick Santorum for President. This time, it is those of us who are unwilling to identify America as a “Christian Nation” –and behave accordingly–who are being invited to leave.
Despite the efforts of all of the GOP candidates to pander to the religious fringe of the party, the Santorum campaign has been the most explicitly tied to religious doctrine, and Santorum himself is quite obviously the most sincere in his beliefs. It should come as no surprise that he has attracted those elements of the electorate who feel aggrieved by the respect for diversity that characterizes modernity.
In fact, Santorum’s campaign has operated to shine a light on a campaign element that political operatives usually manage to obscure–judging (accurately, one hopes) that too much attention to it will repel more voters than it will attract. Most campaigns that have chosen to court the Christian Nation folks have done so through carefully targeted appeals and the use of “dog whistle” terminology in campaign speeches. (George W. Bush was a master at this–he would sprinkle phrases through his speeches to signal the faithful that he was one of them–knowing that the majority of Americans were unfamiliar with the phrases and their context and would fail to “get” their significance.)
Santorum, however, has chosen to run as a theocrat. He makes no bones about his desire that American law should reflect his religious beliefs.
Santorum and the people he has attracted cling ever-more tightly to a revisionist history that justifies the past privileging of white, heterosexual Christian (formerly only Protestant) males. The more society changes, the more they reject the generators and markers of that change–science, globalization, diversity.
It is hard to believe that in the 21st Century we are watching a credible candidate for a major political party’s nomination reject evolution, deny the existence of global climate change, criticize women who work outside the home, oppose the use of contraceptives and advocate second-class citizenship for gays–a candidate who rejects the principle of separation of church and state, and welcomes the support of pastors who tell non-Christians they should leave the country if they disagree.
In the (thankfully highly unlikely) event that Santorum becomes President, I think many of us would seriously consider that invitation.