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Santorum’s takeback on JFK and upchucking

So far, there has been just one Catholic president of the United States (that would be John Fitzgerald Kennedy, hereafter JFK). If he realizes his current ambition, Richard John “Rick” Santorum (hereafter RJS), would be the second.

JFK did indeed say that he believes “in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” The politics — and the poetry — of JFK’s various utterances on the topic are easily apparent, but, taken in full context, JFK’s public thoughts on church and state have held up remarkably well.

RJS did indeed say that he “almost threw up” after reading JFK’s “absolute” utterance.Although the politics (and lack of poetry) behind Santorum’s remark are also apparent, it was a really dumb thing to say. Santorum seems to realize that and yesterday, on the Laura Ingraham radio show, he expressed regret about it. Good move.

But not before he had doubled and tripled down on the original dumb remark. Pressed about it Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Santorum said:

“To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up.”

And on “Meet the Press” RJS interpreted JFK’s “absolute” remark as meaning that “the only thing you’re allowed to bring to the public square are secular ideas, not motivated by faith.”

I’ve mentioned several times my impression that Santorum is more factual and logical on behalf of his candidacy than most of his rivals for the Repub nomination. But on this one, he jumped the shark.

The idea that separation of church and state means that only atheists and agnostics are allowed to speak about public policy is ridiculous. Almost every president has been overtly religious and I can’t recall any openly atheistic candidate ever having much success (although clearly, if the country decided to elect an atheist, that would be constitutional).

Kennedy commented many times on his vision of the proper relationship between not only church and state but between a president’s religious convictions and his role as a policymaker with power of those who don’t share his religious convictions.

My friend Prof. Joel Goldstein of St. Louis University Law School, who often writes about presidential history, wrote a piece for History News Network demonstrating that JFK often invoked religious ideas and teachings in his public statements as president and developed a clear, nuanced ethic about the interplay between faith and politics which, I assure you, is NOT that “the only thing you’re allowed to bring to the public square are secular ideas, not motivated by faith.”

Goldstein’s piece is worth a full read. But if you don’t click through, here’s a taste:

“Contrary to Santorum’s mischaracterization, Kennedy never sought to banish religion from public life. In his inaugural address, delivered four months later, he swore his presidential oath ‘before ‘Almighty God” and proclaimed that ‘the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state but from the hand of God.’ Kennedy implored all ”to heed in all corners of the earth the command of Isaiah—to ‘undo the heavy burdens … (and) let the oppressed go free,” and he closed by ‘asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.’

Less than three weeks later, Kennedy argued that America was founded on two interdependent propositions: ‘a strong religious conviction, and … a recognition that this conviction could flourish only under a system of freedom.’

In a broadcast address on civil rights in June 1963, Kennedy said the nation was ‘confronted primarily with a moral issue. It is as old as the Scriptures and is as clear as the American Constitution.’ The previous day, in a commencement speech at American University on arms control, Kennedy invoked ‘the Scriptures’ for the teaching that ‘when a man’s ways please the Lord … he maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.’ 

Kennedy understood that religious conviction had a place in civic discourse and in shaping attitudes on public policy. But he rightly believed that such discussion must occur in a pluralistic context that accepted the legitimacy and equality of various religions, that rejected religious tests as a qualification for public office, and that encouraged public officials and citizens to discharge their political responsibilities based on the public interest.”

Perhaps it’s a sign of progress (by which I mean only progress in the ability of voters to see past religious identities, grudges and stereotypes) that in yesterday’s Michigan primary, Mitt Romney (who if nominated, would be the first Mormon to receive a major party nomination) received the votes of 44 percent of Catholics while Santorum, who is Catholic, got 37 percent of the “Catholic vote.”

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Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 02/29/2012 - 01:13 pm.

    Silly man

    Guys like Santorum aren’t interested in merely having a voice, they want to dictate. He’s not trying to participate in the political process, he’s trying to take it over. As a general rule anyone or anything that apposes this agenda makes guys like Santorum want to throw up.

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 02/29/2012 - 02:06 pm.

    The fact is that if the majority of the voting people in a country want a certain policy, they usually can get it. If the majority of voting people want the Santorum ban on contraception, it would most likely wind up as law. That is why elections matter. That is why clear and direct statement of policies and beliefs on the part of candidates matter. There is not any constitutional restriction that prevents any set of politicians enacting a significant portion of their religion-based beliefs into law. They might have trouble forcing you to worship at their church, but other than that, a country can be remade. Ultimately, a constitution can be changed, also, and then you COULD be forced to worship at their church

    Like everyone else, candidates beliefs inform their opinions and affect how they want to shape the world. And if they have an unwavering belief that their way is the right way, why wouldn’t they push to enact what they believe? The rub comes when others, the minority, have beliefs different than the ruling majority.

    America was founded on the protection and recognition of dissent. But that is all at the leave of the voting majority.

  3. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/29/2012 - 04:36 pm.

    The real problem

    The problem with Santorum’s remarks, whether it’s the one about Kennedy’s absolutist take on the separation of church and state, or Santorum’s traditional catholic view of contraception, etc., isn’t the opinion itself, it’s that the average voters in this country aren’t smart enough and the press isn’t honest enough to differentiate between personal views and governing policies.

    A conservative principle is that we don’t govern by mandate, including personal behavior. That’s what the Left does.

    We are staunchly in favor of national defense but believe in a volunteer force. When democrats actually were staunchly in favor of national defense, they wanted everyone to serve and insisted on a draft.

    Unlike the democrats, we don’t believe that all our beliefs and every good idea should be federal law. We believe in freedom. It’s the other guys who make you do things you don’t want to do. And don’t run for the gay marriage example, gay marriage has been illegal for a millenium.

    We knew something was up when during one of the debates, George Stephanopolis, the democrat operative, asked Romney and Santorum whether states could make contraception illegal. Other than the debaters and the viewers at home looking around and wondering where the heck that question came from, I don’t recall their exact answer other than to agree that technically, states could pass laws making anything illegal if they wanted to but no one was talking about making contraception illegal. But everyone shrugged their shoulders and asked why that hypothetical question was even relevant.

    When it came up again, it became apparent that the democrats where trying to make contraception an election issue. Why? They can’t make abortion an election issue because most people are now pro-life. But most people also believe contraception should be legal and so by trying to start the meme that the republicans oppose contraception, they hoped to convince most users of contraception being opposed to something would translate into wanting to ban that something.

    Typical voters who aren’t aware of conservative-liberal ideologies and that it’s not the republicans who ban and mandate things, it’s the democrats, would be easy to convince of this lie.

    Now the democrats are trying to say that Santorum’s constitutional view of the 1st Amendment that states that government shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise of religion is somehow extremist when all he said was that Kennedy’s absolutist remarks were wrong. That Kennedy’s remarks could be interpreted as there’s no role for religion in the public square, which would be a misreading of the 1st Amendment.

    Regardless, boys and girls, this doesn’t mean that if Rick Santorum is elected president that you’d all be required to go to Sunday school … unlike my experience under LBJ but that’s another story for another time.

  4. Submitted by John McDonald on 02/29/2012 - 05:11 pm.

    Peter Principle

    It never takes Santorum long to rise to the level of his own incompetence. I truly hope he gets the nomination and has to debate Obama on constitutional issues. Obama to Santorum: “I worked with Laurence Tribe. I know Laurence Tribe. Laurence Tribe is a friend of mine. Rick, you’re no Laurence Tribe.”

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 02/29/2012 - 09:15 pm.

      In that debate

      Rick Santorum will ask Obama if it’s true that he was a “professor of constitutional law” as we’ve all been told or if he was really simply an instructor who taught two courses on civil rights law. Hearing Obama fess up about lying on his resume would be a hoot.

  5. Submitted by rolf westgard on 03/01/2012 - 06:16 am.

    Resumes and Santorum

    At least Obama has a resume to talk about. Rick Santorum just has a mission. It’s illustrated by this quote.
    “Satan has his sights on the United States of America,” Santorum warned in 2008. “Satan is attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality as the root to attack all of the strong plants that has so deeply rooted in the American tradition.”
    I won’t mention all his comments related to women’s rights.

    I am not Satan or a female, but he has me scared.

  6. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 03/01/2012 - 08:40 am.

    Doubling back

    Is Santorum admitting that these statements were rung,
    or just that he made a mistake in accurately portraying his own views?

  7. Submitted by Doug Gray on 03/01/2012 - 10:02 pm.

    successful atheists

    I can think of a few successful atheist politicians, whether they would count as successful candidates or only “came out” after being elected.

    Rep. Pete Stark, Democrat from California, states he is a Unitarian who does not believe in a supreme being. As the old joke goes, he might burn a question mark in someone’s lawn.

    Our own Independent Gov. Jesse Ventura famously said that religion was for the “weak-minded,” though I believe that was also after his election. He did declare July 4, 2002 as “Indivisible Day” in the State of Minnesota in honor of its freethinkers, while refusing to declare official Days of Prayer.

    I’d have to say someone who takes a scissors and pot of glue to the New Testament in order to remove the accounts of miracles and other “superstition” qualifies as non-religious. If that’s not convincing, how about someone who also had a copy of the Koran in his library; the copy our Rep. Keith Ellison took his oath of office on. That would be Thomas Jefferson by the by.

    And it’s always worth mentioning Robert G. Ingersoll, “The Great Infidel,” orator, author, Civil War cavalry officer and Attorney General of Illinois, who went on to a successful career as a Washington insider, prosecuting fraud in the Post Office and advising Presidents…Republican Presidents. Those were the days.

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