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Jay Michaelson

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It's Schadenfreude Time: Santorum Messes Up the Republican Party

Posted: 02/ 8/2012 7:00 pm

Schadenfreude ("shaad-en-froid-uh") is one of those great German words. It's the feeling of pleasure in someone else's unhappiness, and, as fans of the musical Avenue Q know, it's among life's guilty pleasures. It's not noble, but hey, we all do it.

For liberals, especially LGBT folks, watching the Republican primary is prime Schadenfreude time. With every win by Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney has to spend more money and look less popular. It's no secret that progressives would be only too happy to see these guys (and Ron Paul, too, for good measure) club each other to pieces. Metaphorically, of course.

This is even true when it comes to Santorum, who built his career by defaming gay people, analogizing our love lives to bestiality, and catering to the basest of homophobes within the Republican Party. Watching Santorum win three primary contests in one night is somewhat terrifying: it's like watching three states' worth of Republican voters tell you they'd rather see you dead. But as the fear subsides, it's replaced with... glee.

The best part about it, and what distinguishes this particular Schadenfreude from plain old gloating, is that moderate Republicans are reaping what they've sown. For 35 years now, they've made a deal with the devil. We know they never really bought into the evolution-questioning, the gay-baiting, and the pro-life hysteria. They just wanted their tax rates lowered and a strong Department of Defense. But those Christian right voters sure delivered the goods. And so, moderate after moderate grinned weakly alongside purveyors of hate.

Well, moderates, you created a monster, and now that monster is biting you in the butt. In fact, as far as I can tell, there are at least three distinct monsters, all seething with rage: the good old "Christian right," the Tea Party, and the Fox News/Glenn Beck/Obama-is-a-Muslim ragers. Sometimes these groups overlap; sometimes they're distinct from one another. But what they all have in common is that their rage has been stoked by the real Republican power center -- Big Money -- and manipulated for those Republicans' advantage.

It's been going on for years. Reagan's "Southern Strategy," convincing poor and middle-class whites to vote against their own interests by scaring them about blacks, gays, and abortionists. Karl Rove's boast, which he made good on, to register half a million new evangelical voters for George W. Bush. And Rupert Murdoch's ultra-cynical propaganda campaign, otherwise known as Fox News. All these tactics, and plenty more, have enlisted angry white people to vote for rich white people. And they've worked.

Only now the rage has spiraled out of control. It's already been reported how Murdoch in particular has begun to panic, à la Dr. Frankenstein, as his far-right monster spins out of his moderate-right control. But that's also true of the three decades of pandering to the Christian right. Guess what, moderates? Your right-wing flank takes itself seriously. It's tired of being used by you. And it's seriously messing with your election this year.

Because the fact is, despite Santorum's wins, his policies are out of step with the mainstream. Even assuming Romney is the nominee, his months of pandering to the far-right fringe will come back to haunt him in the fall. (In Romney's case, of course, the problem is twofold: the statements themselves, but, more importantly, the fact that no one believes what he says anymore.) Last year, for the first time in history, more Americans approved of same-sex marriage than disapproved of it. And that trendline is arcing leftward. Time is not on Santorum's side, nor on the side of others who try to sound like him.

So while Santorum does make most LGBT people want to puke (pun, as always, intended), we also know that he inspires the same nausea in the vast, moderate middle of the American population. These are the folks who may not be on board with the whole "LGBT agenda," but who know common-sense, live-and-let-live values when they see them, and who understand that the nice lesbian couple in church just doesn't match the wild stereotypes that politicians spread about queer people. These people, our friends and families, are as alienated by Santorum's rhetoric as the far right is entranced by it.

And come November, they're not going to vote for a hater.

 
 
 

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