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Opening Arguments

Separation anxiety

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.


Tue, 02/28/2012 - 8:41pm

It seems to me that Santorum means exactly what he says, and that he wants a society (not unlike Puritan New England) in which religion not only influences government but is involved in its operation. As with the Puritans, then, one has to worry which religion, and which branch of that religion, is favored -- and whether the religion-influenced government could start determining which is the "correct" religion.

By the way, does one want a president who has a habit of "saying things in a flamboyantly awkward way"?

Harl Delos
Wed, 02/29/2012 - 11:41am

Saying things in such a flamboyantly awkward way isn't that much of a problem. Thinking flamboyantly awkward things should be encouraged.  Doing them, on the other hand, is unacceptable.

It's time for Mr.Romney to sit down his campaign staff, and tell them the facts of life.  You don't change the stripes on a tiger; Mitt acts like Mitt does, because he's Mitt.  And then Mitt needs to unveil his standard campaign speech from now until November.

I don't want to vomit, he'd say, when I hear Mr. Kennedy.  Mr Kennedy was a good man, not a great president, but he had some very good moments.  And Mr. Obama is a good man.  Sings wonderful, and he's raising a couple of wonderful kids, and being a great dad is one of the toughest things a man ever does.

And if I were elected president, I wouldn't make any really drastic changes.  That's the thing about conservatives; we conserve.  We make modest changes to things, not radical changes.  And when you are riding in the rear of the bus, you appreciate a driver that doesn't rapidly accelerate, doesn't stand on the brakes, doesn't wildly swing from lane to lane, because you don't want to end up sitting on the floor, and you don't want your kid to get carsick.  And yes, I know about riding in the back of the bus, because whether you pal around with terrorists, or you pal around with NASCAR team owners, or you just pal around with the guys at the bowling alley, we all end up riding in the back of the bus.

There's a limit to how much a president can do.  The best farmer in the world can't raise a decent crop of pineapples in Minnesota, and the best president in the world can't reverse a 50-year-long decline in manufacturing in just four years, but that doesn't mean that the president doesn't matter.  The president can nudge things a little - and you want a president that nudges things towards prosperity, not towards disaster, so I'm asking you to vote, not for a candidate of the radical right, not for the green party, but for a good, solid, conservative candidate.