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Martin Long

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Santorum's Gifts to Obama

Posted: 02/27/2012 4:19 pm

Rick Santorum appeared on ABC's This Week apparently to demonstrate once and for all that he cannot be elected the next President of the United States and that soon after November he will slip into obscurity.  In fact, I'd bet $10,000 today to the first taker that he won't be elected POTUS.

The Santorum interview is well worth a read or a watch just to see how a national candidate can be so utterly out of touch with the mood of independent voters.  In just over fifteen minutes Santorum gave the Obama campaign three themes, along with sound-bite-ready video clips, that can and will be used effectively against him in the unlikely event that he is, in fact, the Republican nominee.

President Obama once said he wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob.

I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.

This [the burning of Korans in Afghanistan] is unacceptable. The idea that a mistake was made, clearly a mistake, which we should not have apologized for... I think it shows weakness

First, a college education.  Isn't it still a cornerstone of the American Dream that our children should go to college?  Why would any candidate want to run a campaign against the idea of college as a goal if one so chooses?  President Obama in his State of the Union Address put this goal in the economic context of today succinctly: "Higher education can't be a luxury -- it's an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford."  Is there any independent voter in America that disagrees with that goal?  I'm not referring to the mechanism to achieve it, but the goal of an affordable college education for those who have the ambition and the desire for postsecondary education.

Second, the First Amendment.  Rick Santorum said on camera, with a straight face, a smile, and in a full sentence, that he doesn't believe in the absolute separation of church and state.  The First Amendment's establishment clause initially limited only the federal government (Congress) from establishing a religion (in fact, at the founding of our Republic, six states had established religions: Connecticut, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina).

You may recall that in 1960, when John F. Kennedy sought to be the first Catholic president, there was much private discussion, not unlike the discussion today about Mitt Romney's Mormonism, of the "so-called religious issue" -- that perhaps JFK would be beholden to the Pope.  Kennedy addressed this insidious criticism in his famous speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.  This well-reasoned and articulate speech reassured the American people that Kennedy would continue the enduring foundational principle that a central government shall not sanction a religion.

There is an arc of increasing clarity regarding the separation of church and state in the United States that began with the establishment of the colonies, continued through the drafting of the Constitution and the inclusion of Jefferson's statute of religious freedom, and was buttressed in Supreme Court rulings such as Everson v. Board of Education (1947) and, in the post-Kennedy era, in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971).  Candidate Kennedy's Houston speech is recognized as another important touchpoint in the continued development of this arc of not just buttressing the wall between church and state, but of building it a bit taller and stronger.  That has been the direction of church/state separation (more of it) in this country, regardless of whether the Catholic candidate Santorum or evangelical Christian Americans wish it otherwise.  Now, remember that Santorum needs independents to win a general election.  And, unlike Santorum, independents do not get nauseated at the idea of the separation of church and state<.

Third, Koran burning.  The United States military recently mistakenly burnt Korans in Afghanistan.  This is a no-no as Muslims believe that the Koran is literally the word of God.  The military publicly apologized under the Tylenol Doctrine (when something bad happens, come clean quickly).  Santorum agrees that burning the Korans was unacceptable, but goes on to say that America should not have apologized for it.  This shows an incredible sense of naiveté in foreign policy and willful ignorance about the chain of command, especially coming from a former senator.  Though they desire to be Commander in Chief, Republican candidates typically defer to military commanders when things get complicated -- it lets them talk tough, but not really say anything.  In this case, the military command, not President Obama, made the wise decision to quickly admit and apologize for the error because, well, there was nothing else that could have been done.

The news that Korans were burned by the military in Afghanistan was out.  We had three choices: ignore it, deny it, or admit it.  Ignoring it would have only flamed Muslim opposition, as the righteous of any ideology love a good fight.  Denying it would have been futile, as the press would continue to report it.  So it had to be admitted.  Given that, there were two further choices: apologize or not.  Common sense, and the judgment of the U.S. military, was to apologize quickly and affirm that it was an error, and one that we would be particularly careful not to repeat.  In reverting to the Republican reflex of trying to "out hawk" Democrats, Santorum's criticism that by apologizing we appear weak is anachronistic and inflames rather than defuses tensions.  Santorum's criticism of public apologies run particularly hollow just now as he spent almost a minute in the recent Arizona debate apologizing for voting for No Child Left Behind.  Once again, I must ask, is Santorum's an effective argument to win over independents?

It has been posited that Santorum's Achilles heel is his loquaciousness regarding his underlying philosophy, a trait that emerges as he tries to explain on the Republican campaign trail that his "conservative" positions are firmly rooted.  Unfortunately for him, we are getting a clear idea of his thinking, and independents are rejecting it and him.  And he has done a great job of giving the Obama campaign just what they need to remind swing state independents in the fall that they fundamentally disagree with him (51% unfavorable, 33% favorable).  Anyone got $10,000?

 

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