Talking Points from Rick Santorum’s Ethics Playbook

1.  No fetus should be denied health care.

2. My mother Cathy used to say, God love her,  The best solution for unwanted pregnancy is to learn to want it.

3.  All men are created equal.  All women are created  to be mothers and teachers or nurses.

4. Life begins at conception and ends with a funeral.

5.  Marriage is between one man and one woman, Mormon losers.

6.   Abortion is a sin because the Bible says “Honour thy father and thy mother,” and how would you even be here if they had aborted you, pervert?

7.  Despite what my critics say, I do not believe everything the pope says is literally true.  For example, he might say “It look like rain” when it doesn’t.

6. Our Constitution gives people of the same sex all kinds of rights. And it gives people of different sexes different rights. Same – Different, is that too hard for you you socialist bloodsuckers.

9.  Marriage is not a right.  It is a privilege.  Except it can’t be taken away once you accept it.  It’s really complicated.

10.  Monogamous, heterosexual relationships are what make America “the shining city on a hill,” like St. Augustine John Kennedy Ronald Reagan so famously said.

11.  It hurts me to see so many Catholics turning their backs on the teaching of the bishops. I think we can all learn something important from the bishops about how to teach our children, family values, protecting the young so many things.

12.  I’m not saying I’m a perfect Catholic.  God didn’t make us perfect.  I’d only say that I am the only Catholic politican who can go to communion with a clean conscience.

13.  What a disaster John Kennedy was as the first Catholic president.  I’ll bet if abortion had been legal then he would have been for it.

14.  People ask me, “Why do you think you’ve got a direct line to the Almighty?”  I’ll tell you why, if you tell me why you’re so gay.

15. Do I believe in evolution?  Let me put it his way. I believe God has a right to change his mind.

Convictions are Killing Us

"One Nation, in Jesus' Name, with God's Justice for all."

The second Republican presidential debate confirmed all suspicions that we are confronted by intellectual pygmies vying for the chiefdom of the American tribes.

The promised entry of Rick Perry into the race, and if we’re lucky (and her van stops long enough for her to make further wowsers about American history) Sarah Grizzly-Mom Palin, won’t substantially raise the intellectual ante or the tone of discussion.

"The British are coming! Oh, you are British..."

What all of these aspirants have in common besides being emblematic of how easy it is to succeed  in American politics  is that all claim to have convictions. Lots of  ‘em

We’ve all seen small candidates in our time.  We’ve even seen an amazingly stupid underachiever hold on to the office of president for eight interminable years, once presumably because he won the election. But we’ve never seen it this bad.

And the reason we’ve never seen it this bad is because three, at least, of the wannabes keep talking about their convictions–not ideas, but beliefs they hold doggedly and think other Americans, as Americans, should hold them too.

Some of these convictions are religious. Some are economic, and some are social.  But their classification doesn’t matter: there is no high falutin’ epistemology involved in having these core convictions, because,  according to this troop, convictions are what made America great and what keeps America going–one nation under God, in whom we trust.

In the Republican debate, when she wasn’t just venting gas about making Obama a One Term President, an idea overwhelming in its piscatorial crassness, Michele Bachmann said a number of times that she  has more convictions than any of her competitors.  “I have demonstrated leadership and the courage of my convictions to change Washington, stop wasteful spending, lower taxes, put Americans back to work and turn our economy around….”

She also has convictions about lightbulbs, fuel emissions, gays, the “unborn,” as she sepulchrally calls fetuses, the nature of marriage, and a dozen other things that flow from her weird teaology.

Michele Bachmann and some of her two dozen foster convictions

She’s doubly dangerous because like a lot of people with convictions, she can’t admit when she’s wrong: take the “Our founding fathers worked night and day to abolish slavery”- comment.  Not only historically outlandish but perverse in her attempt to defend her wrongness.  The “founding father” she tried to name (9 years old at independence and 19 when the Constitutional convention was convened) was the son of a real founding father whose views on God, religion and the Bible Michele Bachmann would find disturbing, if not incomprehensible.

On Saturday, the cast of this folies bizzare will be joined by an aging fraternity lout who is not only unimpressed by the concept of separation of church and state but frankly can’t bother to make the distinction.

That would be a scandalous posture if most Americans cared a farthing about the Constitution, but polls have repeatedly shown that if the document were up for grabs today it wouldn’t look much like the Enlightenment icon we possess, warty amendments, like the Eighteenth, and all.

No one really wants to contemplate what a President Perry would say if a committee of Pentecostal ministers suggested  amending “We the People” to “We the Christian People of the United States,” or putting a tasteful cameo of Jesus in the center of our currency to mark us out as a holy nation of God-fearers, beloved and protected by the Almighty.

Two of the contenders, Romney and Huntsman, are Mormons, a group so strange in its beliefs that the best that can be said about them is that they aren’t scientologists. The remainder, in  shades of ecclesial gray are simply losers, though “Rick” Santorum is also a religious nutcase and Catholic pro-life extremist who refuses to attend any Masses that aren’t in Latin.

In additon to the six children Santorum holds up as proof of his commitment to the Gospel of Life, his wife Karen in 1996 gave birth to a son (Gabriel Michael) when she was twenty weeks pregnant. The dead fetus (born with a closed posterior urethral valve) was brought home and “introduced” to the other children as their brother.  The couple slept with the fetus overnight before returning it to the hospital the next day.  The story is told in lurid detail by Michael Sokolove in his 2005 New York Times Magazine feature “The Believer.”  In the same piece, Santorum is quoted as saying that in his view George W. Bush was the first “Catholic president of the United States,” and that John F. Kennedy “shed his Catholicism.”  Convictions.

The Republican race for the nomination is not about choosing the most qualified candidate but about trying to determine who’s the least crazy.

Unfortunately, the American people have a huge appetite for crazy–prime time Jersey Shore and Biggest Loser crazy. Their political focus on winners and losers, American idol-style, is so far removed from the debates, the ideas, the burning issues that formed the republic that history is only considered a distraction, and a boring one at that.  I can easily imagine viewers who wondered if, at the end of the debate, the participants would be called over in small groups by Tyra Banks.  In my mind, she’s wearing something silky in red, white and blue, with dangly silver star earrings:  “Jon, you’ve got a lot of talent. I really expected you to shine out there tonight.  But you just didn’t come through. Your sentences were too long and I just felt you were holding back.” –Or maybe that wouldn’t be a worse process than the one we have.

We liked your number--we really did--but you just didn't, you know...

As it is, in the discounted political process we’re stuck with, convictions matter more than facts and looking decisive carries more weight than being right. The media calls it optics.  Winners and losers are determined by how tenaciously wrong opinions and worthless convictions can be defended.  Who cares when John Quincy Adams lived?  It’s my conviction that my contempt for pro-choice Americans is the real American value: end of story. The optics of conviction-holding may be the most serious threat democracy has ever faced.

There are certainly things that disappoint me about Barack Obama. But I sense that he wouldn’t lie to me about history, or claim to know something for certain that he doesn’t know.  Maybe that comes from his being a college lecturer, or just a nice guy, since truth-telling and history were not his predecessor’s strong suit.

But unless history proves me wrong (and not his slanderers) Obama is as close as we’re likely to get in the twenty-first century to a politician still in touch with the spirit of the founders, still interested in the American experiment as an experiment and a work in progress.  As a matter of experience he understands that America isn’t finished.  As a matter of dogma, his opponents believe that America reached its pinnacle of perfection in some golden age, whose mythical history they have substituted for the far messier but real story of America’s past.

That “scholarly,” tentative view of democracy as an idea in need of exploration and improvement is a dangerous one in Rick Perry’s done-deal Exceptional America, where God is king, presidents are his stewards, and only men with strong religious convictions are entitled to serve.

The political free fall in which we find ourselves is frightening enough without the supernatural maps being offered by the Republican horde.  This is too far down the road from John Kennedy’s most famous dictum about religion for any of us to feel complacent: ”I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me.” Where did we make that wrong turn? And where did these guides come from?