The Anachronistic Candidate


Hearing Rick Santorum talk about contraception, religion, the separation of church and state, and culture in general I sometimes get the impression he was born in the wrong century.   For all the indignation and anger from women’s groups, gay organizations, and others incensed by his insensitivity, I’m struck by the fact he makes a cogent and logical argument — by 19th Century standards.

I don’t mean that as an insult either.    It’s just he’s fighting a culture war that has already been lost, and there’s not much chance to go back and refight it.    He’s channeling Pope Pius IX, who put forth the “Syllabus of Errors of the Modern World” – “the scourge of liberalism” in 1864.

Consider the following quotes from Santorum, the first threefrom this campaign:

1.   “I think the right approach is to accept this horribly created — in the sense of rape — but nevertheless a gift in a very broken way, the gift of human life, and accept what God has given to you. As you know, we have to, in lots of different aspects of our life. We have horrible things happen. I can’t think of anything more horrible. But, nevertheless, we have to make the best out of a bad situation.”

2.  “Many of the Christian faith have said, well, that’s okay, contraception is okay. It’s not okay. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”

3.  “The idea that the Crusades and the fight of Christendom against Islam is somehow an aggression on our part is absolutely anti-historical. And that is what the perception is by the American Left who hates Christendom. … What I’m talking about is onward American soldiers. What we’re talking about are core American values.”

4.  “In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might find they don’t both need to. … What happened in America so that mothers and fathers who leave their children in the care of someone else — or worse yet, home alone after school between three and six in the afternoon — find themselves more affirmed by society? Here, we can thank the influence of radical feminism.”  (His 2005 book It Takes a Family)

5.  “If the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual [gay] sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. … That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing.” (AP 2003)

The worst quote in my opinion is number 3 – defending the crusades.   That’s historically wrong and given the times we’re in politically stupid.    Will he also defend Pope Alexander VI?

Pope Alexander VI, Rodrigo Borgia, was a vicious, greedy and promiscuous pontiff

Quote one arouses anger and disdain from most women who can’t imagine the violence of rape followed by being forced to carry an unwanted pregnancy to term and then being responsible for the child after birth.  Even most anti-abortion women don’t think that way.   Yet it makes sense in the traditional Catholic world view about the sanctity of life being paramount.  The “rape baby” is a life, and killing it is wrong in that line of thinking.

Quote two says the only purpose of sex is reproduction (the ‘every sperm is sacred’ creed) and that with contraception immorality and lust abound without consequence.   To most of us that sounds hyper-prudish.    Most people think there isn’t anything really wrong with premarital sex; adultery and cheating are bad less because of the sex and more because of the betrayal and dishonesty.   But before the sexual revolution starting in the 60’s, that kind of moralism was common. People didn’t live to those ideals, but they at least felt they had to pretend to.

Quote four seems horribly sexist.   The idea women should stay home and men go to work reeks of the kind of family oppression women suffered for centuries.  He’s also wrong about his history.  The idea that children should be isolated to grow up with a parent staying in the household is a western invention.  Throughout history villagers, male and female, had to work to survive, and children in the villages were cared for by a group of women/mothers.   Day care is more natural to humans historically than isolation in the family unit.  By the 19th century male dominated society had become the norm, and women were expected to stay home and raise kids – in German Kinder, Kueche und Kirche – children, kitchen and church.    It’s only been in the last fifty years that women have started to achieve real equality in the work place — Santorum’s quote is anachronistic and sexist, yet until recently reflected what most people saw as normal and natural.

Quote five on gay marriage is similar.   Sex not in line with normal social norms was weird, perverse, and scary.   Two men having sex, sex with pigs or chickens, polygamy, that all got lumped together as sexual perversions.   The cultural shift on the issue of homosexual rights and gay marriage has been dramatic over the last fifty years, and very evident if you talk to young people today.   Young conservatives are not as closed on this as their elders – the culture has changed.

Pope Pius IX’s argument was that liberalism (at that time that meant democracy and free market capitalism) was destroying cultural norms, traditions, and the moral authority of the Church.   It would bring decadence, perversion, atheism, and nihilism.   Without something strong to believe in, without the moral authority of God through the Church, he argued, the material world and reason can give no sense of moral purpose – anything goes.   That would be chaos, anarchy, and ultimately destruction.

When you look at Santorum’s defense of his statements, it’s clear that’s what he’s seeing.   His world view reflects that of Pius IX, it’s not just petty bigotry against gays and women, but a principled (if misguided) view on the nature of society and morality.

But Pius lost that war.   He was right in some ways, of course.   Without tradition and a strong sense of Church authority  humans have done horrid things — communism, the holocaust, etc.    I myself have been a critic of runaway materialism, consumerism and a sacrifice of the spiritual for a mundane and ultimately dissatisfying materialist notion of the meaning of life.  Pius IX correctly saw the dangers and the potential emptiness that a path of individualism and radical freedom would lead to.

But that’s the path we took.   Most of us don’t want to go back.    Yes, there are real challenges in dealing with uncertainty, no clear guidelines to truth, and the lack of the social cohesion and community that once protected our mental health and self-esteem.   We’ve chosen a path that is psychologically, politically and spiritually very difficult.   We choose the path of freedom and knowledge, we partook of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and reason.

We can’t go back.   The world of Pius IX and by extension Santorum is gone.   I don’t believe Santorum is psychologically a bigot or homophobe, I think he’s reflecting a set of traditional beliefs that had such things embedded within them.    We had to work to show that those things were wrong and did harm to people, Santorum never learned that lesson.

This has been a weird political year.  There’s something surreal about such an anachronistic yet apparently honest and principled politician making it to this level in the year 2012.   It’s symbolic of the nostalgia that seems to have gripped the Republican party as it realizes the country has undergone radical cultural and demographic shifts in the past decades.   He will fade; he has to.    But what does it say about the state of the GOP that he can rise to such prominence, even with values so contrary to the social progress made in the last century and a half?

  1. #1 by brucetheeconomist on March 2, 2012 - 06:32

    Could you read him as arguing for single earner households? I didn’t think he clear said the woman stays home. I suspect was unstated though.

  2. #2 by lbwoodgate on March 2, 2012 - 12:11

    Very nicely presented Scott. The right man for the wrong time? Most likely But it is his one-dimensional paternalistic, western society view that suffocates the life out of all other human beings he happens to share this planet with.

    • #3 by Scott Erb on March 3, 2012 - 17:30

      Good point – 19th Century Europe destroyed cultures and societies across the planet in order to gain resources and expand. Western civilization has a track record of violence and control.

  3. #4 by sekanblogger on March 2, 2012 - 22:17

    Hard to believe huh?
    I wonder if Ricky thinks Martin Luther is burning in hell? Somebody should ask him just to see if he’s stupid enough (I think so) to shoot his mouth off on that subject.
    #3..yeah. Bombing for Jesus. That’s some intelligent crap there.

  4. #5 by Stephen Kahn on March 2, 2012 - 22:23

    Tomorrow, just to be ornery, I am going to attend the local (Washington State, south Whidbey Island) Republican straw poll caucus meeting. (I have more often voted Democrat, but as long as I am a registered voter and promise not to attend the Democratic caucus, I am allowed to attend.)

    I don’t know if anyone else will be there, but who knows. I will probably vote for Gary Johnson for the nominee for President. I don’t know that libertarianism is a practical political system, but I have a sentimental attachment to it. If anyone else is there, what should I ask them or tell them? Is there a difference between Ron Paul and Gary Johnson?

  5. #6 by stanchaz on March 3, 2012 - 16:04

    Republi-cants….what a circus. These holier-than-thou clowns just LOVE to tell you what you can’t do. Their campaign slogan should be “No you can’t”. The headlines just keep coming: Republicans condemn condoms! Republicans legislate forced trans-vaginal probes. Republicans tell us to have children of rape …as a gift from God.  Republicans insult women in hateful word and deed ….degrading women who simply want to plan their families, and control their own bodies. What’s next with these guys? Republicans mandating missionary-position only? Procreation, not recreation…or else?  I really really hate to admit it, but Newt was right. ‘Cause Newt and all his Republican friends SHOULD set up a moon colony…. AND GO THERE! Then they could tell each other what to do, and how to live, and who to love…. and who to hate…while leaving the REST of us alone, in peace, back here on Earth. Newt, I always KNEW that you were a problem-solver. Unfortunately, you and your Republican friends ARE the problem. P.S. We may laugh, and smile, and ridicule…but I know that this is not a game. People that are elected DO affect our lives, and the lives of those we love. It does matter. If I want a find a preacher I go to my place of worship, NOT my voting booth…

  6. #7 by Alan Scott on March 3, 2012 - 17:26

    You guys do know of course that you are exaggerating Senator Santorum’s positions in order to politically destroy him ? I mean Saint JFK was a good Catholic. Probably the chief difference between President Kennedy and President Santorum is that Santorum would not be nailing every skirt in the White House.

    • #8 by Scott Erb on March 3, 2012 - 17:32

      But Santorum’s quotes and statements are what’s being used. Those views are also why he lost his Senate seat by 16%. I don’t dislike him, I just think his views are misguided. If I’m exaggerating them it’s unintentional, it’s based on things he’s said.

  7. #9 by Alan Scott on March 3, 2012 - 18:17


    I beg to disagree as to why Santorum lost . I live in Pennsylvania. We are a Liberal state with a strong Conservative minority . Santorum survived in essentially an enemy state for a long time . He lost in a Democratic wave year to the son of a popular former governor .

    Santorum rarely played it safe in the Senate . Other GOP Senators in safe states could take controversial stands and not be threatened . Santorum did what all of us say we want our politicians to do, put principles ahead of reelection . You guys can make fun of those beliefs all you want .

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