Rick Santorum has a habit of saying things in such a flamboyantly awkward way that's it's too easy for his opponents to mock his words without quite addressing the substance of his remarks. A case in point:
Former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) on Sunday defended a statement he made last October in which he said that he “almost threw up” when he read John F. Kennedy’s 1960 Houston address on the role of religion in public life.
[. . .]
Santorum defended his remarks, telling Stephanopoulos that “the first line, first substantive line in the speech, says, ‘I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.’”
“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum said. “The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.”
It's the "almost threw up" part that's getting all the attention. It makes Santorum sound like an extremist zealot attacking the most remembered church-and-state speech ever made by a president. And it is remembered as the epitome of reasonableness -- hey, look, you're electing a president who just happens to be Catholic, not a Catholic president who gets his marching orders from the pope.
But Santorum is right that the JFK speech was itself extremist -- that first line says the separation of church and state should be absolute -- not much room for compromise there. I doubt, though, that Kennedy really felt that hostile toward religion -- it's just what he had to say to get over the anit-Catholicism hump. It's likely he was more sympathetic to Santorum's reasonable view all of us, including those with strong religious convictions, have the same right to try to influence government. It's a long way from "the pope doesn't pull my strings" to "no church should have any infolvement in the state."
The irony is that some people still aren't over their qualms about putting someone of faith in the White House for fear that the faith would inappropriately intrude on matters of state. But it's Mitt Romney's Mormonism rather than Santorum's Catholicissm that is pushing their buttons.
If I'm misreading Santrorum and he really would like to create an unholy church-state alliance, pleas foregive me, or pray for me or something.