Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum are doing their best to give victory to the other guy.
This election is supposed to be about the struggles of ordinary Americans in a down economy, with job creation front and center. Instead, the Republicans offer one candidate, a venture capitalist, whose tone deafness on class issues damages him among blue-collar voters, and a second candidate whose appeal originally lay in his blue-collar roots but who now insists on pushing extreme positions on social issues.
Mitt Romney apparently can’t help himself. Friday, he added to a long line of insensitive gaffes when he revealed his wife “drives a couple of Cadillacs.” Never mind that Ann Romney keeps the two cars at different homes and that they are hardly outrageously expensive vehicles. The brand name, Cadillac, does the damage, reminding every one of Romney’s vast wealth.
Romney’s inability to keep his foot out of his mouth is well documented, coming mostly when he departs from prepared scripts to ad lib. Harder to explain is Santorum’s recent emphasis on social issues, which is deliberate and calculated.
One explanation is obvious: Rick Santorum is a social conservative and he is most comfortable discussing social issues. Also, opposition to gay marriage, abortion, and the like plays to his strength. His appeal is to right-wing evangelicals, and Santorum evidently believes that his best chance to snare the Republican nomination lies in mobilizing so-called values voters.
But what kind of victory would it be? Syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, who is no liberal, puts it bluntly: “If the Republican nominate Rick Santorum, they will lose.” Parker adds: “Santorum is a good man. He’s just a good man in the wrong century.”
Santorum frequently says it’s the media that focuses on social issues, forcing the candidate off his blue-collar economic message. But it’s Santorum who spent an hour this past weekend telling a Tennessee audience, “True happiness comes from doing God’s will. It comes from not doing what you want to do, but doing what you ought to do.”
It’s Santorum who claims “political correctness” places social conservatives under attack on college campuses and who now says he does not believe “separation of church and state is absolute” in America.
Santorum’s views on separation of church and state reveal in which century he lives. It’s the seventeenth, and he is the spiritual heir of John Winthrop, who led the first wave of Puritans to Massachusetts Bay in 1630. The Puritans fled religious persecution in England, but their goal in America was not to establish religious freedom. Winthrop’s “city on a hill” preserved Puritan theology and was no more tolerant of dissent than the established Anglican Church in the old country.
Separation of church and state — the doctrine that all are free to practice whatever religion they choose, or none, and that the state favors no church over any other — comes from another famous seventeenth-century colonial American religious leader: Roger Williams.
Williams’ advocacy of religious freedom was so revolutionary that Massachusetts exiled him. He found refuge in nearby Rhode Island, establishing the first place in the Western world where people were free to worship any God or no God without fear of state retribution.
Williams’ ideas on religious liberty were enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution and in Thomas Jefferson’s famous Statute for Religious Freedom in Virginia.
John Winthrop’s conviction that the state is the guarantor of God’s will lives on in the writings and speeches of Rick Santorum. The former senator recent accusation that President Obama is not following “a theology based in the Bible” suggests that the United States under a President Santorum would be guided by theological precepts as interpreted by Rick Santorum.
There’s a name for a place like that. It’s called Iran.