“Rick Santorum offered no apologies Tuesday for a controversial speech he gave in 2008 when he talked about the threat of Satan in America.
“‘I’m a person of faith. I believe in good and evil,’ Santorum said in response to questions from CNN…
“‘If somehow or another because you’re a person of faith and you believe in good and evil is a disqualifier for president, we’re going to have a very small pool of candidates who can run for president,’ Santorum said…
“In a speech to a small crowd of supporters in Phoenix Tuesday evening, Santorum said he can handle the pressure.
“‘I’ll defend everything I say,’ Santorum said.”
“Santorum is a standing affront to the sensibilities and assumptions of the media and political elite. That elite is constantly writing the obituary for social conservatism, which is supposed to wither away and leave a polite, undisturbed consensus in favor of social liberalism. Santorum not only defends beliefs that are looked down upon as dated and unrealistic; he does it with a passionate sincerity that opens him to mockery and attack…
“Although his critics will never credit him for it, Santorum’s social conservatism brings with it an unstinting devotion to human dignity, a touchstone for the former senator. The latest position for which he’s taking incoming is his opposition to a government mandate for insurance coverage of prenatal testing often used to identify handicapped babies who are subsequently aborted. For his detractors, his respect for the disabled is trumped by his unforgivable opposition to abortion…
“As Jeffrey Bell, author of the new book The Case for Polarized Politics, notes in a Wall Street Journal interview, Santorum’s style of social conservatism is deeply American.”
“The main (though not exclusive) problem for Santorum is his rhetorical approach to social issues. He’s said he would be the one president who would talk about the damage contraception does to American society. He’s spoken quite openly about criminalizing doctors who perform abortions. He’s made a passionate case against prenatal testing. He’s been quite forthright in his views against homosexual acts, about women in combat, and about women in the workforce. He’s given a speech in which he’s said Satan has systematically targeted the key institutions in American life. The danger for Santorum is that, fairly or not, these statements and stands, separately and (especially) combined, create a portrait of a person who is censorious and sits in critical judgment of the lifestyle of most Americans…
“It’s almost impossible to overstate how important tone and countenance are when it comes to social issues. There is a great deal to be said for those who care about the cultural condition of American society. But the arguments on behalf of moral truth need to be made in ways that are winsome, in a manner that is meant to persuade. What this means, in part, is the person making the arguments needs to radiate some measure of grace and tolerance rather than condemnation and zeal. What we’re talking about is using a light touch rather than a heavy hand. To understand the difference, think about how the language (and spirit) of the pro-life movement shifted from accusing people of being ‘baby killers’ to asking Americans to join a movement in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. Social conservatism, if it ever hopes to succeed, needs to be articulated in a way that is seen as promoting the human good and advancing human dignity, rather than declaring a series of forbidden acts that are leading us to Gomorrah.”
“The answer is that when Mr. Santorum discusses these issues, he needs to fold them into his larger narrative about the free society. That narrative has to do with pointing out the dependency that comes with an expanding federal government, the importance of family, and the threat to freedom when, say, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals or a Health and Human Services secretary can substitute their own opinions on these issues for the judgment of the American people.
“Mr. Santorum comes to the task well equipped. He echoes Ronald Reagan, for example, when he talks about how small government requires strong families. Or when he’s pointing out the intolerance of a federal government bent on forcing religious individuals and institutions to underwrite practices (e.g., contraception and sterilization) they regard as abhorrent.
“There is, however, one area where Mr. Santorum needs to demonstrate a discipline it’s not yet clear he has. That is the ability to resist the efforts to drag him out of the public questions into the weeds of theological debate.”
“Everything stems from his allegiance to the Catholic Church’s teachings that every human life has equal value and dignity. The church’s objection to birth control is based on concerns that sex without consequences would lead to men reducing women ‘to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of (their) own desires,’ as well as abuse of power by public authorities and a false sense of autonomy.
“Within that framework, everything Santorum says and does makes sense, even if one doesn’t agree. When he says that he doesn’t think the government should fund prenatal testing because it leads to abortion, this is emotional Santorum, father of a disabled child and another who died hours after a premature birth. In both instances, many doctors would have recommended abortion, but Santorum believes that those lives, no matter how challenging, have intrinsic value.
“Though Santorum’s views are certainly controversial, his biggest problem isn’t that he is out of step with mainstream America. His biggest problem is that he lacks prudence in picking his battles and his words. The American people are loath to elect a preacher or a prophet to lead them out of the desert of unemployment. And they are justified in worrying how such imprudence might translate in areas of far graver concern than whether Santorum doesn’t personally practice birth control.”
“‘Will you be the generation that sat on the sidelines and watched as candidate after candidate comes up and the national media takes their ax out to try to destroy them in every way possible as they’ve done with every single Republican candidate and as they will between now and the election?’ he asked. ‘And will you sit on the sidelines and say, ‘Boy that’s not fair,’ or will you stand up and fight back for freedom?'”