Tag Archives: Santorum

How Dumb Is Rick Santorum?

People for the American Way have posted a recent radio interview with former U.S. Senator and all-star culture warrior Rick Santorum.

During the discussion, Santorum said that Christians have allowed their faith to be removed from the public square and need to start fighting back, arguing that removing the Bible from public school classrooms is not neutrality but rather the promotion of the secular worldview. He suggested that conservative Christians should respond by “calling secularism a religion because if we did, then we could ban that too.”

Claiming that the absence of religion is itself a religion, Santorum said that Christians must reassert themselves and insist that Christianity “should be taught in the schools” instead of worrying about offending people.

Leaving aside the massive constitutional ignorance Santorum (once again) displays,  I’m intrigued. How do you ban the absence of something?

Earth to Santorum: “secular” means “not religious.” It doesn’t mean “anti-religious.” An experiment in science class is secular; the study of the periodical table of elements is secular. English grammar is secular. History–even when it includes study of the influence of religious beliefs and movements–is secular.

Stuff that isn’t religious is secular. It’s a descriptive term, not an ideology.

The removal of religious doctrine from the public sector (government)(which is not at all the same thing as its removal from the public square, where religious expression is protected by the Free Exercise Clause) is simply a recognition that in a free society, the government doesn’t get to impose or endorse a set of preferred religious beliefs. The transmittal of religious doctrine is the prerogative of families and religious institutions.

There are a lot of culture warriors who really do understand the First Amendment, but choose to pander to the sizable number of Americans who don’t. I don’t think Santorum is one of those. I think he’s a true believer.

And not a very good thinker.

In fact, his diagnosis of secularism reminds me a lot of his diagnosis of Terri Schavo. He sees things that aren’t there.

 

 

Love It or Leave It

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.

We Need a Prime Directive

My husband and I recently watched a re-run of Star Trek: Voyager. The story-line revolved around the application and importance of the “Prime Directive.”

For those of you unfamiliar with Star Trek (is that even possible??), the Prime Directive is the guiding rule developed by the future’s Federation of Planets: officers of Starfleet are expressly forbidden from interfering with the internal affairs of other planets and civilizations, no matter how well-meaning that interference or how potentially disastrous the results of non-intervention. The difficulty of complying with the Prime Directive has obvious dramatic possibilities, most of which have been mined extensively by the various Star Trek spin-offs.

On rare occasions, where the provocation was overwhelming, interference with other civilizations worked out, but usually in episodes where the Prime Directive was ignored, things ended badly.

Americans could learn a few things from Star Trek. At this stage of planetary development, we are the “big kahuna’s,” the analogs of the sheriffs in the old westerns, or the Federation forces in Star Trek. We are all too easily seduced by the temptations–and delusions–that come with power.

A Prime Directive might have kept us out of Viet Nam and Iraq. It might have kept us from confusing self-interest with self-defense.

At the very least, the existence of a Prime Directive would require serious public consideration of the  reasons being offered to justify a proposed intervention, the adequacy of those reasons, and the validity and reliability of the facts offered to support such justification.

When I hear Santorum, Gingrich and Romney rattling sabers at Iran and spouting nationalistic bromides in an effort to pander to the least thoughtful elements of the electorate, I can’t help marveling that an old science-fiction series displays more substance, more gravitas, more maturity, than the Republicans who are currently competing for their party’s nomination for President.

I can’t imagine Santorum, for example, a man who feels no compunction telling other people and other nations how (his) God wants them to live, and who promises to impose (his version of) “morality” on the rest of us should he be elected, embracing–or even understanding–a Prime Directive.

 

Tilting at the Enlightenment

Some people go through life like Don Quixote, tilting at windmills.

Then there’s Rick Santorum. He wants to repeal the Enlightenment.

I’ve been mulling over Santorum’s recent attack on higher education, part and parcel of his rejection of so many aspects of modernity: evolution, reproductive autonomy for women, separation of church and state, equality for gays and lesbians…There really isn’t much about  the 21st Century (or the 19th or 20th, for that matter) that he seems willing to accept.

I think Santorum’s hostility toward education is very real, despite his own MBA and Law Degrees, and it is at the very heart of his worldview (I hesitate to call it a “philosophy,” a word he would obviously consider “snobby.”) Many people have suggested that his own degrees are evidence that he doesn’t really believe his charges that colleges and universities “indoctrinate” young people, make them lose their religion and become more like the hated Barack Obama–i.e., intellectual. I don’t agree; Santorum’s degrees are professional ones–high order job training. (I”m not throwing rocks; I have a law degree too.)

What Santorum loathes and fears is education. Real education doesn’t “indoctrinate,” of course–it does something more pernicious. It questions.

Education is the arch-enemy of certitude.

If I do my job properly, my students will leave my classes a bit more confused, a bit less sure they have “the answers” and a lot more aware of the magnitude of the questions. They will encounter the diversity with which we mortals approach the uncertainties and complexities of the world we inhabit. They will have a greater appreciation of what they don’t know. If I do my job well, they will also have some “critical” tools with which to assess the credibility of the information with which they are increasingly bombarded.

That is the education Santorum detests, because he is cut wholly from Puritan cloth.

The Puritans came to America for religious liberty–defined as the right to practice the True Religion, and the even more important right to impose that Truth on their neighbors. They approached education much like TV’s Jeopardy–you started with the correct answer, which the Bible provided, and then you went looking for the explanations that would justify that answer. Usually, in the early colonies, those explanations came from the preachers and biblical scholars who’d preceded you.

The philosophical and scientific movement that came to be called the Enlightenment changed the nature of knowledge. You no longer began with the answer; instead, you examined the world around you, based some initial conclusions on careful empirical observations, and then tested those conclusions, which were always considered conditional and subject to change if new information emerged. The Enlightenment gave us the scientific method–as well as a more scientific approach to questions like “how should governments be constructed.”

The U.S. Constitution was a creation of the Enlightenment. So was ambiguity. If all truth is provisional, if all conclusions are subject to revision based upon new information, how can anyone really, really be sure of anything?

Education–real education, as opposed to job training–prepares students to live with that ambiguity.

Puritans find it intolerable.

Over the Top? Or Not?

I’ve never been one of those feminists who sees patriarchy in every corner of the culture, or a sexist leer in every male smile. While I certainly consider myself a feminist–defined as one who believes that men and women should be entitled to equal legal rights and judged on our individual abilities–I’ve always assumed that resistance to a fuller role for women in society is mostly a product of the more general resistance to change and nostalgia for a bygone (largely imaginary) past.

But I’m beginning to think that “the war on women” may not be hyperbole.

Yesterday, Slate Magazine had an article on the now infamous attack on Girl Scouts by Indiana Representative Morris. That article included the following paragraph:

“The escalating hysteria around modern Girl Scouts is due to the increasing polarization in this country around the concept of women’s equality. In an era where the right is putting contraception back on the table as a controversial topic, girls getting together to build self-esteem and learn skills that might make them competitive with boys and men in school and the workplace is bound to get the right wing freak-out treatment. We’re talking about the same movement perpetuating the argument that the purpose of sex education is to get teenagers and young adults “hooked” on sex so that the non-profit Planned Parenthood can rake in the big bucks. Of course they look at little girls gathered around the campfire and fill in lurid fantasies bordering on the Satanic. We’re watching the death throes of male dominance, and no one should expect such a thing to look pretty.”

Before this year, I would have dismissed this as an over-the-top reaction to an attack by one clearly disturbed lawmaker. But I have to concede that this bizarre incident can’t be viewed in a vacuum.

There’s the effort in Texas and Virginia to condition a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy on her submission to an invasive, medically unnecessary “transvaginal” probe.  In the twilight zone we currently inhabit, this requirement is being voted on at the same time that Republicans like Rick Santorum are on record opposing funding for prenatal testing. (They’re willing to invade my body to punish me for wanting an abortion, but ensuring the health of my fetus is too expensive??)

The assault on Planned Parenthood has been ferocious, and despite the predictable rhetoric, it can’t be attributed to abortions, which are 3% of what the organization does. Republicans have been vicious in their efforts to de-fund Planned Parenthood entirely, despite the fact that thousands of poor women depend upon it for reproductive health services, breast exams and family planning.

Irrational and improbable as it seems, it is now clear that “family planning” (aka birth control) is actually what they are attacking.

The so-called “Personhood” bills being introduced in several state legislatures would classify a fertilized egg as a “person,” making the most-used methods of contraception “abortions,” and thus illegal under most circumstances.  The manufactured hysteria about requiring insurance companies to cover contraception–portrayed as an affront to the “religious liberty” of employers–confirmed that there  really is a concerted effort to deny women the right to control their own reproduction. (I’ll admit to being stunned that there really are people living in the United States in the 21st century who believe that “religious liberty” means they have the right to impose their religious beliefs on women who do not share those beliefs. Shades of the Taliban…)

In 1971, I was one of a small handful of women in my law school class. I was the first woman hired by the law firm I joined, and thanks to a progressive mayor, the first woman to be Corporation Counsel of a major American city. I was the only skirt in the room more times than I can remember, for more years than I can now count. But during that time–despite the patronizing behavior of male colleagues, despite the female “friends” who warned me that children of working mothers all turn out to be drug addicts, despite snide remarks about castrating females or offensive suggestions that the only way I could have gotten these jobs was by “putting out” –I never doubted that women would continue to make progress. The old guys with the archaic attitudes would die off, the increasing participation of women in the workforce would make us less of an anomaly, and we would provide healthier, more capacious role models for our children, male and female.

Time and patience were our allies. Progress–however incremental–was inevitable.

I still believe in that progress. I still believe male privilege and domination are inevitably doomed. But I had no idea how hard the troglodytes would fight, and how ferocious the backlash would be.

Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney keep insisting that this year’s elections are about competing visions for America. They’re right. And one element of those competing visions is the role women will play. It’s becoming increasingly clear that when Romney and Santorum talk about “restoring” the future, they are talking about returning to a time when Father always knew best, and Mother played a decidedly second fiddle. (That retrograde vision is why so many male Republicans trash-talk Michelle Obama, while consigning their own wives to supporting roles as devoted and adoring props.)

I’ve been there and done that, and I’m not going back.