Sunday, January 8, 2012

Rick-Rolling Away

What is it about the name "Rick" which makes the bearer of that nomenclature veer to the Right? Rick Perry, Rick Warren, and now the latest "Rick" of the moment, Santorum?

I've known two "Ricks" in my lifetime - one in high school and one in college - and both of them were pretty Rightwing too.

High school Rick was the quarterback on the football team, the BMOC* (Big Man on Campus that wasn't really a campus), smartest kid by a mile in the entire school, and he led the team to a play-off victory against a Norfolk-based high school, whose team included a big defensive lug of a player named Ed Schultz (yes, that one). High school Rick wasn't the stuff of dreams, more of nightmares. He had Tim Tebow's unbending faith, with none of his looks and no charm at all.

High school Rick had a head shaped like a raindrop, wore a short-back-and-sides buzzcut (this was in the late Sixties-early Seventies, remember) and Freddy-and-the-Dreamers glasses attached to his skull by an elastic strap. He was articulate and intelligent. He was also the Fundamentalists' fundamentalist. He didn't believe in birth control, and women - along with children - should be seen and not heard. Feminism was as foreign to him as the French he was required to take in order to graduate.

And every word that issued forth from the Bible was not only the word of God, it should have been the law of the land. I remember him monopolising the entire hour of our 10th grade biology class, challenging our atheist of a teacher on evolution, aided and abetted by the King James version of the Bible.

Did I mention that, along with liberals of any stripe, he also disdained Catholics? He was a Nineteenth Century soul set adrift in the mid-Twentieth, amongst kids who were experimenting with sex'n'drugs'n rock'n roll, when we weren't finding older brothers and sisters to buy us some booze for the weekend.

I hear he's a preacherman these days. Nice to know some things never change.

College Rick was the roommate of my roommate's boyfriend and a medical student. He may have believed in evolution, but he would rival the Pope in his observance of Catholicism. He was cute, but celibate - couldn't risk offending the faith with any kind of contraceptive, you know. He's a doctor these days in Arizona, probably a Republican, and as he's working in Emergency Medicine, I suppose, until recently, he was doing his bit for keeping medical insurance premiums high by treating all the uninsured and trying to ensure no anchor babies were born this side of the border.

And now I've got to deal with the possible candidacy of Rick Santorum, who really is an amalgem of High School Rick and College Rick.

I watched the MSNBC-Facebook New Hampshire debate today, and it's easy to see why Santorum is surging with Republicans - especially with Republicans in places like Iowa and maybe the South or anyplace sporting small-town culture and mentality. Nothing wrong with that, except that the Democratic party should have been tapping into these people's concerns for the past 40 years and haven't been.

Santorum sells himself as a working class kid made good - the son of an Italian immigrant (probably illegal) brought here as a child, who worked himself up from nothing to a responsible job and enabled his son to attend university and law school. That's the stuff of the American dream, but some of the stuff along the way, which enabled Santorum to achieve the lofty heights, is some of the stuff against which he's railing now.

Like me, Rick Santorum was born in Winchester, Virginia - probably in the same hospital as I and probably with the same paediatrician. His parents were medical personnel at the local Veterans' Administration Hospital in West Virginia, so they were employed (and insured) by the U S Government. Later, when his father got a promotion to a position in another VA hospital in another state, the family moved into housing on the grounds of the facility - so Rick benefitted from US Government-subsidised housing as well. And since the family were living in Pennsylvania by the time he was old enough to go to college, I would imagine that he took advantage of some of LBJ's New Society educational programs to attend the public university, Penn State.

Like Palin before him, but with a modicum of intelligence, Santorum is at ease with people from similar backgrounds. He resonates with them, he reflects their "outward" values - he's been married to the same woman forever, she's an ex-nurse (so she's worked an actual job) and they have a gaggle of kids who all look like him. There's even a disabled kiddie and the fabled child who died shortly after a premature birth.

No less than reiterates that the loss of this child was not a late-term abortion; rather, the foetus was plagued with a fatal birth defect, and Mrs Santorum was ill, herself. Antibiotics administered by the hospital where she was being treated caused labor to begin in her 20th week, and the rest is history, as we know it.

However, as the Salon writer reiterates:-

Rick Santorum did tell the Inquirer that “if that had to be the call, we would have induced labor if we had to,” under the understanding that the fetus was going to die anyway and intervening would save Karen’s life. And it is accurate to say that the direct experience of a life-threatening pregnancy and a tragic loss did not leave Rick Santorum with any empathy for women who do have to make those difficult decisions in extremely murky circumstances.

And there's the rub.

Rick Santorum not only opposes Roe v Wade, he also opposes Griswold v Connecticut, which establishes the right to privacy as a Constitutional right. And that extends to his belief that contraceptives should be illegal as well. Again, from Salon:-

Rather, Santorum’s open hostility to contraception laid bare the disconnect between anti-choicers and the American public at large. But in fact, the sum of Santorum’s positions comes pretty damn close to suggesting that. I cited his longtime opposition, recently reiterated, to Griswold vs. Connecticut, the crucial Supreme Court case that found a right to privacy in the U.S. Constitution, striking down a birth control ban. I also quoted his own words from October 2011, “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is, I think, the dangers of contraception in this country,” which he termed ”not okay.” In the same breath, he called these matters among the “important public policy issues” for a president.

Santorum also signed a pledge crafted by Personhood USA, which believes, contrary to any evidence, that the IUD, the morning-after pill and even the birth control bill are abortifacients that should be banned. And he supports the defunding of Planned Parenthood, which provides, among other medical care, contraceptive services to low-income women. In other words, literally taking away their birth control.

Here's your working class hero, folks.

Of course, there's also his fabled view on homosexuality, a misguided remark which led to his surname being appropriated into gay sex vocabulary, but another thing of note with Santorum, especially with regards to his homophobia, is his particularly puerile manner in debating it. The New York Times summarised his latest encounter at a student forum in New Hampshire last week;

One student started the conversation by asking Mr. Santorum — a fervent opponent of same-sex marriage — why he did not think that equality required allowing members of the same gender to marry.

Instead of offering a quick answer and moving on to another subject, Mr. Santorum began a Socratic lecture about changing the laws on marriage, repeatedly asking the students questions.

“Don’t you have to make the positive argument why the law should be changed?” he asked several of them.

As the students pressed him on the morality of letting gay men and lesbians marry, Mr. Santorum engaged them even further.

First, he compared changing marriage laws to building a bridge. You have to have a reason to build the bridge, he said. He then said that many of the things that same-sex marriage advocates want — like the ability to visit loved ones in hospitals — can be accomplish through contract law.

“Can that right be legally done right now through contract?” he asked. “Yes it can.”

But the testiest part of the exchange came when an audience member suggested that gay people should be allowed to marry because they have a right to happiness.

In response, Mr. Santorum asked whether she thought that more than two people should be allowed to marry, apparently trying to suggest that the questioner was advocating an extreme position.

“If you’re not happy unless you’re married to five other people, is that O.K.?” he asked.

That angered the audience, which booed his answer.

“I’m happy to engage in a discussion,” he continued, saying that he wanted to “give people a chance to answer, but we’re going to have a civil discussion.”

The woman who had asked the first question then persisted, saying that the question about bigamy was “irrelevant.”

“In my personal opinion, go for it,” she said. “But when two men want to marry … ”

Mr. Santorum interrupted, “What about three men?”

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” the woman said to Mr. Santorum, who spent close to an hour and a half before the crowd.

The session ended with many of the students booing Mr. Santorum as he left for his next event.

Santorum's riposte wasn't just the deft goal-post moving of a seasoned politician, this was the sort of pugnacious answer a thirteen year-old, incapable of understanding a sophisticated point, would give. Same sex marriage isn't particulary sophisticated; it's just the acknowledgement that any single person should be allowed to marry whatever other single person he or she wants, and whether that's a heterosexual or homosexual relationship wouldnt' matter at all.

This is basically a completion of Civil Rights; this, along with the repeal of DADT, which Santorum opposes as well, would really enshrine that all people really are created equally, at least, idealistically, under the Constitution.

And, truth be known, Santorum may have no qualms about hiring an openly gay Senate aide; indeed, he may even support and sustain any child of his, who may out himself or herself as gay, as he stated in this morning's debate; but he wouldn't stint in denying them the right to serve their country or to marry the partner of their choice.

Not only does openly mock the idea of healthcare for all U S citizens, not only is he on record as wanting to end Social Security and Medicare as we know it, now rather than later, he also calls the President hubristic and elitist for daring to say that it would be nice if all US schoolchildren could get a college education.

I was so outraged by the president of the United States for standing up and saying every child in America should go to college. Well who are you? Who are you to say that every child in America should [go to college]? I mean, the hubris of this president to think that he knows what's best.

I have seven kids. Maybe they will all go to college. But if one of my kids wants to go and be an auto-mechanic, good for him. That's a good paying job: using your hands, using your mind. This is the kind of snobbery that we see from those who think they know how to run our lives. Rise up America, defend your own freedoms. And overthrow these folks who think they know how to orchestrate every aspect of your lives.

The hubris? Pardon me, but doesn't Santorum think he knows what's best when he opines that contraception is one of the worst things to happen to the human race because it means sex can be a means of enjoyment? This is the man who doesn't want to make black people's lives better by giving them someone else's money (although he later lied and said he didn't say this); this is the man who is on record as saying that diversity causes conflict.

Rick Santorum scares me. He scares me because I know that this is the sort of man the average Republican voter would take to heart, because he talks small town and he bigs up the ubiquitous family values meme to a dynamic who've had the Democratic party and their African American leader demonised as enemies of everything they hold dear and familiar. For that people would sign away their privacy and their pensions and medical rights for someone who tells a good story.

If you look at the Republicans still standing, you can see his appeal when weighted against an insincere flip-flopper, an idiot, a racist and the sort of Republican who got left by the wayside when Nelson Rockefeller died. Never mind Santorum's stance against abortion, contraception, gays and minorities and never mind that three months before he lost his Senate seat in 2006, he was named one of the three most corrupt Senators serving.

I can barely remember John F Kennedy's campaign, but raised Catholic, I remember, later, my parents and older relatives reminiscing about the concerns non-Catholics had about a President who practiced that faith. My mother was a girl when Al Smith ran against Herbert Hoover, and the anti-Catholic invective was palpable enough to lose Smith the election. Santorum is a candidate who wears his religion on his sleeve and interposes it into all sorts of domestic social legislative matters.

It scares me that enough of the Left will stay at home, should Santorum secure the nomination, and that will result in the most horrific electoral win in United States history.

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