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Rick Santorum's Totalitarian Instincts

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One of the most extreme things Rick Santorum said in his campaign to be elected Moralist-in-Chief is also something largely ignored by the media. In yet another anti-gay rant, Santorum promised that as president he would get involved in a national campaign to strip gay couples of their marriage licenses. He said:

Gay marriage is wrong. As Abraham Lincoln said, states do not have the right to do wrong. And so there are folks here who said states can do this and I won't get involved in that. I will get involved in that because the states, as a president I will get involved because the states don't have a right to undermine the basic fundamental values that hold this country together.

In New Hampshire, Santorum said, "I don't believe that we can have 50 definitions of marriage... I think there are certain things that are essential elements of society, upon which society rest, that we have to have a consensus."

However, Santorum doesn't seek consensus; he seeks federal, centralized control. His idea of "consensus" is to ban anything that disagrees with his morality. When anything deemed a moral issue is being decided he thinks the federal government should decide for the nation. This is precisely the opposite of what the authors of the Constitution thought.

As far as the Founders were concerned, federal powers were clearly delineated in the Constitution. Nowhere did they suggest that control over the moral climate of the nation was a federal matter. The Founders were not particularly enamored with a federal government with its fingers in the affairs of the home, business, education, health care, or morality. They said central government had a few, precise, enumerated functions and the powers necessary to carry them out -- nothing more.

Santorum's desire is to strip states of their power to set marriage laws, merely because he believes such issues are about "right and wrong" and thus claims the states have no power to do wrong. For more than two centuries, states have been writing their own marriage laws and there have always been different definitions of marriage.

This doesn't mean the states are free to do as they wish, as Ron Paul seems to believe. One of the great virtues of the 14th Amendment is that it limits the powers of states according to the Bill of Rights. Conservatives should remember that recent Supreme Court decisions upholding the 2nd Amendment were based on this very thing.

Jefferson argued that government derives powers from the people and that the function of government is to protect pre-existing rights of the people. That was all he thought government should do -- protect rights. It wasn't in the business of enforcing God's law, Rick Santorum's theology, or Vatican edicts.

While many conservatives lament that the federal government is usurping powers to try to centrally plan the unplannable -- the economy -- they are far too sanguine when it comes to government interference into the most intimate part of an individual's life. Taxes reduce individual choice by stripping people of the economic means of achieving their goals, but the regulations that conservatives love, strip people of their very individuality. Theocrats want to regulate who people love, how they live their private lives, what they read, their entertainment choices and the myriad of "moral" decisions people make about their lives. It seeks to replace individuality with a herd all holding the same beliefs and living the same lives.

Taxes restrict choices. Individuals who lose income to the state have fewer choices and must decide which trade-offs are acceptable. They have to take less of something they value in order to feed the bureaucracy. That isn't good, but the Rick Santorums of the world want to strip people of those choices entirely. They claim they are willing to leave more income in people's pockets, but then want the law to forbid certain choices because this freedom offends the moralistic sensibilities of theology-addled busybodies. Individual choice, they say, is fine for such mundane, relatively unimportant tasks, such as whether to have soup or salad with your meal. But those really important decisions, such as whom to marry, must be controlled by some politburo of morality.

It is as if Santorum is channeling the spirit of the meddlesome Frances Willard, a fundamentalist Christian socialist who was president of the Women's Christian Temperance Union. Willard thought government should control most aspects of human life and went so far as to advocate a "department of amusements," saying, "It is no more reasonable for people to let the devil have all the amusements than it is to let the devil have all the good tunes." Like Santorum, Willard wanted federal control over what she saw to be a moral issue: alcohol consumption. She succeeded in her endeavor and the nation soon regretted its decision repealing Prohibition just 14 years later.

Santorum's choice of Lincoln and slavery as his example is ironic. Slavery was a violation of equal rights before the law, yet inequality of rights is what Santorum defends. The states were not being too generous in the recognition of rights, but too miserly -- refusing to give one class of people the same rights as others. It was theological tradition that endorsed slavery. The New Testament tells slaves to obey their masters; it never tells masters to free their slaves. If anything, Santorum's analogy backfires on him. He is the man, steeped in an antiquated theology, who wishes to deny equality of rights in the name of tradition.

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