Saturday, March 17, 2012

Rick Santorum Is Not a Religious H G Wells

I barely remember when Kennedy was elected. I was only six and in the first grade. I remember my Catholic parents finally allowing themselves to celebrate the fact that a fully paid-up member of their "club" had finally made it to the White House (and a Democrat at that). Years later, my mother talked to me about this, and when she reminisced about Kennedy, she also reminisced about the first Presidential election she actually remembered - in 1928, when Al Smith ran against Herbert Hoover.

Al Smith was a Catholic, who was eviscerated nationally in the Republican papers of the day, as someone who was guided by his religion to the point that the Vatican would actually have a Cabinet seat. Think about that: the Catholic faith was, in the early part of the Twentieth Century, the religion of immigrants, people whose American "experience" wasn't as established in some people's minds as those of their Protestant brethren.

Al Smith was as competent a politician as John F Kennedy, who still had to give a speech to a group of Protestant clergymen, assuring them that his religion would never interfere with his governing as President of the United States.

We know know that this speech made Rick Santorum puke.

We know know that Rick Santorum is the bogeyman Catholic which would have struck fear into the ignorant Protestant hearts of Al Smith's or Jack Kennedy's times.

Yet Rick Santorum won the Mississippi and Alabama primaries.

Go figure.

Clark Reed, who was Southern and Republican when "Republican" was a dirty word down South, is certainly at a loss to explain the attraction Santorum has to people whose view of the Catholic faith is tainted with more than just a little suspicion.

Reed, interviewed by The Washington Post, reckons that people of the South are now allowing their votes to be guided more by their beliefs, rather than by what is practical, eschewing the time-honoured Bill Buckley approach which states that people should, basically, hold their noses and vote for he, who would be easily elected.

And here's the key and the point of connect with Santorum and those people whose ancestors would have been just as likely to have burned a cross on Santorum's front lawn eighty years ago, no matter how much his lifestyle mirrored that which they lived.

The people who voted for Santorum in Tuesday’s primaries called themselves “very conservative” and also “born-again Christian.” They said they voted for him because of his “strong moral character.” These voters do not share with Santorum their religious beliefs, for Santorum is a Catholic and they are Protestants. But they share with Santorum what might be called a faith-based nostalgia: They believe that things were better before, they’re going to hell right now and only a strong commitment to Jesus Christ will turn America around.

Santorum is a traditionalist in all things. He is a traditionalist Catholic and has said that too many American Catholics observe “uninspired, watered-down versions of our faith.” He is a traditionalist husband and father, and is “traditionalist” (if you want to call it that) on constitutional interpretations.

Santorum voters are traditionalist Americans. They yearn for an age when America was run by white Christian men, when husbands went to work and wives stayed home and raised as many children as they could handle. (One Ohio blogger, explaining his choice for Santorum, called him “a real man.”) In that America, abortion was illegal and gay marriage was a schoolyard joke. In that America, everybody went to church.

Santorum and those who voted for him are looking back to a time when the United States “was free and safe and prosperous,” as he said in a victory speech this week, “based on believing in free people and free markets and free economy, and, of course, the integrity of family and the centrality of faith in our lives.” That last phrase refers, of course, to Roe v. Wade, but it also refers to a conviction (which Santorum shares with his fans) that God is real and intervenes to improve people’s lives.

What Santorum has done, maybe cleverly so, is to tap into the Dominionist claptrap that so many Republican politicians - Michele Bachmann springs to mind - have tapped into: the belief that these people, often the poorest specimens in the poorest areas of the poorest states in the country, have been hand-picked by Jesus, to lead their fellow citizens out of sin and into end times. Of course, Rick Santorum doesn't believe this, personally. He's Catholic, and believe me, there's enough of Catholicism left in my blood to know that Catholics don't buy into the Dominionist meme.

But, hey, if it gets you to the polls, why not? The irony of this entire situation is that these are the people whose parents, grandparents and great-grandparents would have run a mile rather than cast a vote for an Al Smith or a Jack Kennedy, and that's when the area was Democratic blue.

And now they stump for Rick Santorum, a "real man" in a sweater vest, who wants to turn back time when white was not only right, it was might and women remained barefoot, interminably pregnant and in the kitchen, and children could leave school after finishing the sixth grade.

When America was better? Really?

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