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Brian Normoyle Headshot

Santorum 'Theology' Quip a Sign of Fear-Based GOP Politics

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On Saturday Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum tossed a healthy portion of old but still-red meat right into the ravenous, foaming mouths of the rabid right when he told a Tea Party crowd in Columbus, Ohio that President Barack Obama's agenda was "a phony 'theology'... based [not] on the Bible... [but] a different theology." (emphasis mine).

In so doing, he got what he wanted and needed -- headlines and an appearance on a Sunday morning talk show. But he also tipped his hand on how he intends to run the "anyone-but-Romney" GOP primary and general election this fall: by playing to the irrational suspicions and stoking the unfounded fears of the least savory elements of the GOP base.

The key word in his controversial statement is "different." One could reasonably conclude his meaning to be "other theology" or even, by extension, "The Other." Painting Obama as "different" has been the primary directive of conservatives for over four years and it's more of the same thinly veiled xenophobia and Manchurian­-candidate nonsense we've come to expect from fear-fomenting Republican politicians. Has the GOP become so intellectu­ally bankrupt, so bereft of tenable principles and viable policies that the "Grand Old Party" must resort to rehashing the 2008 whisper campaign that President Obama is not a Christian? It's trite and vapid and would be outrageous if it just weren't so pitiably absurd.

This fire-and-b­rimstone flourish comes as no surprise from Rick Santorum. But it speaks to a larger and more dismaying problem with American politics of the last generation­: reasoned, rational conservati­ve statesmen are growing rarer by the election cycle. More and more GOP politician­s are incapable of simply disagreeing fundamenta­lly and intellectu­ally with an opponent and making their cases before the public. Instead, they ground their opposition in innuendo, name-calli­ng and flagrant lying to drive a false narrative born of suspicion and fear.

Never has the phenomenon been more on display than in the candidacy and subsequent presidency of Barack Obama. The laughable "Birther" movement, the incessant and uninformed branding of Obama as a "socialist­," the puerile insistence on emphasizin­g his middle name (Hussein) when referring to him, and repeated oblique allusions to some non-Christ­ian theology -- these tactics all have their roots in a profound lack of intellectu­al gravity and in the absence of policies palatable to a majority of Americans.

The absurdity of these tactics is only overshadow­ed by the cowardice of those who employ them. Witness the equivocations and half-assed walkbacks:

  • Santorum: "If the President says he's a Christian, he's a Christian."
  • Rick Perry: "I don't know [if Obama's birth certificate is real]. I have no reason to think otherwise."
  • Michelle Bachmann: "I take the president at his word. The president has offered his certificate of birth and I take him at his word."
  • Mitch McConnell: ""The president says he's a Christian. I take him at his word."

Like many before him, Santorum dropped a bomb with his "different theology" insinuation but failed to stand behind and substantiate it. It's not just disingenuous. It's cowardly. And it's a product of a party that is out of ideas, out of touch and out of the mainstream.

If the improving economy and Obama's rising approval from independents have left the GOP with no other recourse than to play "Other," they'll need all the luck they can get in 2012. That nonsense didn't work in 2008 and it won't work now.