Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Out Now

No, not from Iraq, Afghanistan, or Libya, which is another issue altogether.

The participants in last night's GOP presidential debate all come with their reputations: Herman Cain, the businessman; Newt Gingrich, the thrice-married policy wonk; Michelle Bachmann, strident, weak on American geography and darling of the tea party; Ron Paul, gadfly and libertarian; Tim Pawlenty, pro-life and colorless; Mitt Romney, button-down and liberal, conservative, moderate, or whatever.

If there is someone who can be characterized- or smeared- as a theocrat, it would be former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum. Or would have been Rick Santorum.

A question from a male in the audience "I'm just wondering what your definition of the separation of church and state is and how it will affect your decision-making" inspired three ludicrous responses and two quite sensible ones. Not surprisingly, each candidate who responded avoided the more important part of the question/comment- how it would "affect your decision-making." But we still heard Pawlenty attributing American liberty to God; Paul claiming the U.S. Constitution "says no theocracy"; Cain confirming that he believes a presidential adviser's religious affiliation is more important than merit; Gingrich expressing fear that an administration official might turn out to be a bomb maker.

Mitt Romney's response was reasonable, if a little vanilla. But.... Rick Santorum? Checked and confirmed. It was Rick Santorum who in part commented

I think the key to the success of this country, how we all live together, because we are a very diverse country -- Madison called it the perfect remedy -- which was to allow everybody, people of faith and no faith, to come in and make their claims in the public square, to be heard, have those arguments, and not to say because you're not a person of faith, you need to stay out, because you have strong faith convictions, your opinion is invalid. Just the opposite -- we get along because we know that we -- all of our ideas are allowed in and tolerated. That's what makes America work.

A diverse country? A candidate in the Republican nomination process endorsing diversity? That is truly wondrous, but no more than calling into "the public square" all individuals "to be heard." And even less extraordinary than Santorum welcoming "everybody, people of faith and no faith...." to express his or her opinion.

Forget the GOP (where an expression "of no faith" would instantly disqualify someone from public office) but consider that the American people at large are wary of a candidate for public office who professes little or no faith. A Pew Research Center survey taken late last month found that 61% of the electorate would be "less likely to vote" for a presidential candidate if that individual "does not believe in God." There is a reason that President Obama often ends speeches with "God bless the United States"- and it's not because the Almighty takes orders from Barack Obama or any other politician.

So Rick Santorum should drop out of the presidential race immediately. He was a very long short, anyway, and now has committed ideological heresy. There is no room in a Repub race (and, sadly, perhaps not in a Democratic race) for someone who asserts we must not "say because you're not a person of faith, you need to stay out, because you have strong faith convictions, your opinion is invalid." Rick Santorum, a staunch conservative, is wrong about almost everything and passionately so about a few things. But he was boldly, naively right about free expression in a democratic society.

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