Monday, February 20, 2012

Rick Santorum, Prophet


If there was ever one Republican presidential candidate who I was sure would miss out on a moment in the sun, it was Rick Santorum.  Because in a field of crude culture warriors whose grip on reality is tenuous at best, he has been the crudest and angriest, amongst the most blissfully ignorant and happily hateful—guaranteed to lose a general election to President Obama, but not before turning the country into a charred battleground.

I don’t make this assertion as an exercise in Republican-bashing.  I would not, for example, say the same thing about Mitt Romney, as distasteful and destructive as I find his elevation of corporations to the status of living, breathing human beings, or his embrace of trickle-down economics.  I think that Romney is an intelligent albeit misguided man.  For too long his intelligence was bent to serve the interests of the likes of Bain Capital, and I doubt whether he is really capable of grasping what middle- and working class citizens need.  But I don’t think that, as President, he would be as knee-jerk an operator as he is during the Republican Primary.

It pains me to say this, but it is my suspicion that a Romney Presidency would look a lot like an Obama one, except that Romney would be drifting into dangerous waters—the casual waging of conflicts abroad, a cynical refusal to take environmental threats seriously, a disinterest in combating growing inequality—propelled by a genial belief in unregulated capitalism rather than by the political expediency which blows the Obama administration so easily off-course. 

But Rick Santorum, the new GOP frontrunner, is cut from an altogether different sort of cloth.  I won’t even get into the raw hatred and bigotry Santorum brings to the debate when he talks about gay and lesbian couples, an obsession of his that goes back a sufficiently long time to be very well documented.  Some highlights from the last several months. 

On September 7, in one of the early GOP debates, Santorum explained to the audience that the social welfare system punishes people.  This might be news to anyone on social security or Medicare.  It would also undoubtedly come as a surprise to anyone receiving food stamps or unemployment benefits.  Those of us who attended public schools, public colleges, or public universities, or who enjoy visiting National Parks or Historic Sites would also be dismayed to know that we were duped into considering ourselves the beneficiaries of this institutions and that in actuality we were being punished!

In the same debate, Santorum began raving about Ronald Reagan melting like the Wicked Witch of the West.  This, if I read my notes aright, had something to do with Libya.

I’m tempted to rest my case there, but on September 22, Santorum went one better, and argued that we should do away with public employee unions.  Now Santorum, like every other ideologue on the right, can point to cases of abuse in a similar vein to those who scuttle across the border and bring back some Canadian who is disgruntled about healthcare in that country.  The poor Canuck in question is paraded on U.S. television as an example of how horrible any form of nationalised healthcare is, and we’re asked to believe that the rest of his or her countrymen, plus the British, the French, the Germans, the Belgians, the Danes, the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Spanish, etc, etc, etc, are too stupid to realise that they’re being subjected to some wicked, liberty-killing socialist experiment.

But in all seriousness, the anti-union tirades are surprising coming from someone who trumpets the working class, industry, factories, blue-collar workers, etc, as the mainstay of our economy.  These are the people who have benefited the most from unionisation.  Their predecessors were the backbone of the union movement, and they are the reason we have a 40-hour day, a five-day week, pensions, insurance, laws about safety in the workplace, and recourse to demand any improvement in working conditions. 

But Santorum isn’t just a demagogue and a hypocrite.  He’s also a warmongerer.  And possibly nuts.
In one of the Republican’s foreign policy debates, Santorum insisted that we need to “take out [Iran’s] nuclear capability”.  Now I don’t know how the Joint Chiefs would interpret the command to “take out” something, but I have an inkling that it might involve bombs raining down on yet another country as part of the U.S.’s on-going campaign to lose friends and alienate people.  And kill lots of foreigners.  For one thing, we don’t really know how far along Iran’s nuclear projects are.  Secondly, there’s a certain hypocrisy in one bunch of religious fundamentalists who want to exclude nonconformists from public debate–both Santorum and his old mentor, New Gingrich (known to this blog as The Newt Who Would be King...but who probably won’t) have form on this count—saying that other countries can’t have nuclear weapons (especially when, under the first group of fundamentalist nut jobs’ Great Leader, they attacked the second country in question and aided a mad dictator by the name of Saddam Hussein in waging war on it).  Finally, the ease with which Santorum advocates the waging of war and the use of assassination (which he did in the same segment of this debate) is downright disturbing.

But the National Security program of a President Santorum would extend well beyond the waging of neoconservative wars flavoured with the kind of crusading spirit that, to his credit, George W Bush was careful to avoid using.  His would be a program unencumbered by dissenting points of view.  He would “get people together who share my point of view”.  When pressed on this point by the moderator at the time, Santorum expressed disbelief at the idea that he would consult with or hire people who might have the temerity to disagree with him.  His befuddlement at the idea was genuine.  This is a man convinced of his righteousness, and who believe that righteousness is an adequate substitute for information and debate.

Santorum also expressed his belief that “you don’t have rights unless you play by the rules”.  This is chilling, and gives us a sense of what a President Santorum might have done to civil rights or anti-war protestors in the 1960s or ‘70s who relied on civil disobedience in the face of state disinterest that could rapidly transform into hostility.  It tells us where his sympathies would have been when courageous demonstrators broke the law to initiate the ‘Arab Spring’.  We know what Rick Santorum would think of environmental activists who have used civil disobedience to bring attention to polluting industries and companies.  And in Santorum’s book, the Occupy Wall Street movement, which in engaging in civil disobedience to call our attention to glaring and growing inequality in the U.S., would be no different from Al Qaeda.

In an October debate, Santorum again showed his indiscretion, ranting, “I want to beat China.  I want to go to war with China”.  I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was speaking figuratively, or was referencing a trade war.  Even so, the eschewing of diplomacy and the launching of these verbal attacks on a country that we should be doing our best to better understand and build common ground with smacks of an itchy-trigger finger and of a mind driven by anger and somewhat devoid of much else.

In the same debate, Santorum ridiculed the idea of making cuts to the military, ensuring that schools, health programs, parks, public radio, welfare programs, social services, scientific innovation, and government sponsorship of our economic recovery will bear the brunt of the cuts he wants to force upon us.  He also accused Iran of wanting to be the Supreme Leader of both the Islamic and Secular Worlds.  This left me a trifle confused, but perhaps he’s taking a leaf out of The Newt’s book (The Newt regularly references a godless secularist movement which has as its aim the transformation of the United States into a part of an Islamic Caliphate...).

In November we were treated to the Iowa Thanksgiving Family Forum.  Here Santorum made the argument that our rights come from God, in a stunning display of ignorance about the process whereby thirteen colonies threw some tea in a harbour, drew up a constitution and bill of rights, fought a war against the world’s largest empire, and made those documents—written, I feel at pains to point out, by mortal men—law.  Laws which, we should remember, have been modified to do little things like make black people citizens, give women voting rights, require that Senators be elected by their constituents, etc. 

Santorum carried on in this vein, insisting that God “has laws that we must abide by.  Unlike Islam where higher and civil laws are the same, we have separate civil laws but those must comport with our higher laws”.  A couple of points.  Firstly, you can’t really get around the history that suggests that we’ve made our own laws.  Secondly, someone needs to point out to him that Islam isn’t a country.  There are a very large number of countries with Muslim majorities, and in each of these, religion (in which there are variations) stands in a different place with relation to the state.  Finally, it sort of sounds like Santorum is actually advocating that the United States adopt a legal system that resembles his imagined Country of Islam.  This is where I wonder whether Santorum is really an idiot, or whether he’s a miserable, manipulative, hatemonger who preys on and seeks to expand on people’s fears.

Of course Santorum couldn’t have let this debate pass without blaming all of our problems on the “secular” left.  This “left” has, according to the dear former Senator, “co-opted and taken over the academic institutions of this country [...] the culture, the popular culture”.  He urged Republicans to fight to stop “the filth com[ing] through the television”.  Again, I really can’t believe that someone could actually believe that anything objectionable they see on television is all the fault of “the secular left”.  How could he actually buy into the conceit that only people who agree with him on every single issue are “moral”?  When Santorum talks about morality by comparing equality of marriage between two people of the same sex to couplings between people and animals, he reminds you of nothing more than an overgrown frat boy who, while telling offensive locker-room jokes, has stumbled into the national limelight and decided he wants to inhabit an office for which he is utterly unfit. 

And then there was the Tea Party debate.  At this august gathering, Santorum told the Tea Partiers that “You attract Latino voters by talking [...] about having English as the official language of this country”.  Now English-Only legislation would “bar government employees from providing non-English language assistance and services”, marking a further exclusionary turn in our policy towards immigrants.  But perhaps Santorum was actually thinking of the well-being of the Hispanic citizens of the U.S., doing his noble best to keep them out of the grips of that secular Islamist government. 

Santorum has also been notable for his almost violent responses to Texas Congressman Ron Paul at these debates.  He called Paul “irresponsible” for claiming that our foreign policy was responsible for 9/11 and suggested that the Congressman was “parroting Osama bin Laden”.  “We were not”, Santorum insisted furiously, “attacked because of our actions, we were attacked because [...] we have a civilisation that is antithetical to the civilisation of the jihadists and they want to kill us because of who we are and what we stand for”.  So we can add ‘narcissist’ to ‘religious fundamentalist’, ‘economic fundamentalist’ and ‘bigot’.  Most societies around the world don’t actually orbit around the United States.  People are more concerned with what is happening in their own countries, and I feel pretty safe in promising that no one “hates us for our freedoms”.  As a rule, people probably don’t think very much about U.S. policy or government.  Until, that is, we conduct propaganda campaigns against them or their neighbours, start labelling them “terrorists”, prop up their dictators, bomb their infrastructure to the ground, kill their inhabitants, and imprison some of them without trial.

Which it makes Santorum’s claim that “we stand for freedom and opportunity for everyone around the world” a particularly rich illustration of the man’s ignorance.  We have undertaken military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, Lebanon, and Pakistan which have nothing to do with “freedom and opportunity”.  We have propped up and in some cases continue to prop up sadistic and/or kleptocratic regimes in the Congo, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the Philippines, Kenya, Guatemala and El Salvador, to name but a few.  Santorum, like too many in both parties, is totally unwilling to understand cause-and-effect as it applies to our foreign policy.

On the home front, in a December debate, Santorum argued for the repeal of corporate taxes and regulations.  He also attacked Mitt Romney for having the temerity to suggest that we develop any kind of plan or timeline for an economic program.  “I don’t need some government bean-counter”, Santorum said angrily (anger seems to be a big part of his campaign).  Presumably he’s content to leave us in the hands of the corporate “bean-counters” who ran the banks and the real estate market into the ground.

In the last few weeks, his poll numbers on the rise, Santorum has taken to rolling around in his own verbal excrement for the entertainment of the media, soiling our already debased political conversation further by trading in innuendo and open slur.  He contended that Obama doesn’t care about people.  He was quoted by CNN saying, “[For Obama] it’s not about your job.  It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology”.  Santorum suggested that Obama’s attempts to reduce emissions—universally recognised as harmful—were a “political science goal”.  A “political science goal” which he is convinced is about “oppressing religious freedom” and “impos[ing] a moral code” at deviance from Christianity. 

Santorum went on: “I just said that when you have a world view that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources, because we’re going to harm the Earth by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven ... The politicization of the whole global warming debate, I mean, this is just all an attempt to centralize power and give more power to the government”.  I am grateful that I cannot get inside of Santorum’s head to determine whether he believes this garbage, but the fact that spewing nonsense wins him people’s support is disturbing.

It is an incontrovertible fact that we live on a place called Earth.  Its resources are finite, and in some cases we are well on our way to destroying them.  We have pushed many, many species to extinction, we are rapidly destroying ecosystems, together with the life forms and resources they contain.  It is true that we don’t fully understand the consequences of this destruction, but they cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be positive.  Even if we are not morally moved at the prospect of killing off entire species of animals, destroying the rainforests of entire continents, depleting the fish in entire oceans, fouling water and turning fields and forests into rubbish-strewn wastelands, surely we can at least see that the effects of these actions on our health—through the crops we grow, the animals we eat, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the conditions in which increasing numbers of us must live as a result of our unchecked depredations—will be deleterious in the extreme.

There is no question that deregulation as advocated by Santorum would lead to umpteen more cases like the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  When geographically-specialized industries are allowed to spout fumes into the air and pump them into the water, those regions suffer.  California’s Central Valley—where quality of life indicators are lower than anywhere else in the state—are a perfect example of this.  It is common sense as well as scientifically-unassailable fact that air and water pollution are bad for people.  That an additional byproduct of various social and environmental abuses is the warming of the planet which will have potentially-catastrophic consequences, just makes the matter all the more urgent.  It is pathetic that hacks like Santorum go around trying to make political hay from this.

Santorum’s accusations as regards “motive” are truly bizarre.  Because there are plenty of us—progressives, social democrats, socialists, communists, whatever—who believe very strongly that there is a right way and a wrong way to go about governing, living, and treating one another in the context of our society.  But it’s bizarre to suggest that this is a “political science goal”, some kind of “project” that has no reference to people’s livelihoods.  As is the suggestion that the expansion of “Government” is an end in itself for those on the political left.  I feel at pains to point out that many of the left-wing people I know are Christians, plenty of those are Catholics like Santorum, and many of both—shock, horror!—have a strong environmental or land ethic.  It’s an illustration of how unbalanced Santorum appears to be, how blinded by hate for this imagined “secular left” he has become, to the point that it is truly scary to contemplate a Santorum Presidency.

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