Originally published at Talk to Action.
Many of us thought that Rick Santorum’s (R-PA) political career was over when he lost his seat to to Democrat Bob Casey, Jr. in 2006. But recent events suggest Santorum is enjoying an historic comeback. His second place finish in the Iowa caucuses and the backing of 150 national Religious Right leaders seeking to unify behind a single candidate may make him the main conservative alternative to Mitt Romney.
But all this may signal not only a revival of Santorum’s political career, but the neoconservative philosophy.
Neoconservatism’s tide had seemingly ebbed with the growing unpopularity of the war in Iraq. But I have always sensed that this philosophy of empire, religious orthodoxy and laissez-faire was far from consigned to the dustbin of history, and was perhaps only a national crisis away from resurgence. It now appears that the neocons have found a horse to ride into rehab in in the person of Rick Santorum.
As it happens, Santorum is a good barometer of the status of Catholic neo-conservatism, a movement that has taken some hits in recent years. Their powerful figurehead, Richard John Neuhaus passed on; the quagmire of Iraq displayed the limits Inverse Trotskyism and an economy bankrupted by deregulation has disproved their economic paradigm.
But we still suffer recession today because of a Democratic president who is not Keynesian enough in his approach while hesitant (until recently) to identify his political opposition with their beliefs in intentional economic sclerosis and downward mobility. To those of us who are not well-versed in economics, it is easy to understand why we could be led to believe that stimulus does not work.
Simultaneously the GOP presidential candidates have fail to satisfy Republican primary voters. Different states provide the script for different outcomes. Thus, a candidate needs to grab onto a block of powerbrokers to propel him into a very negotiable position. Santorum has done this, trumping Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry with the simultaneous endorsement of almost every Religious Right leader that matters.
Santorum may not be able to wrest the nomination from Mitt Romney, but he may very well emerge as a power broker. If and when the former one term governor of Massachusetts becomes the 2012 GOP standard bearer, he will need Evangelical support in order to have a chance at winning in the general election. If Evangelicals — and, to a lesser extent, conservative Catholics — don’t go to the polls in November, President Obama is reelected. To get their support, he will probably need Santorum.
The implications of such an occurrence are well worth considering. The price of Santorum’s blessing could range from an end to the federal funding and oversight of embryonic stem cell research; to a veto on U.S. Supreme Court choices or even a spot on the ticket as Vice-President.
Neocon op-ed writers such as David Brooks and Charles Krauthammer have recently portrayed Santorum as some sort of blue-collar saint; the great “Christian” hope who reflects his middle-class roots — although he is a millionaire many times over. Santorum earned $1.3 million in 2010 and the first half of 2011 alone and embraces economic policies antithetical to upward social mobility, such as free trade agreements, deregulation and tax cuts for the top .001%.
The mainstream press often describes the former senator as Catholic. But Santorum is a particular kind of Catholic, one who is often out-of-step with the beliefs of some sixty-million American co-religionists. While the clear majority of American faithful largely ignore the Vatican proscription against artificial contraception, Santorum has made his opposition a campaign issue. He has also opposed the federal funding and oversight of embryonic stem cell research.
Two of Santorum’s sons attend a private Opus Dei school in Washington, D.C. Beyond that, the former senator is well known as an Opus Dei cooperator. While not officially a member, being a cooperator offers plausible deniability to those who support the secretive organization’s goals of a more theocratic society built upon a foundation of ultra-orthodox Catholic notions of morality.
In 2007 he became a Senior Fellow with the Koch and Scaife-funded Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC), the infamous neoconservative think tank.
He has used that position to advance a noxious culture war agenda demonizing liberals, gays and those who advocate a healthy separation of church and state. Indeed, his 2011 denunciation of JFK’s 1960 embrace of that fundamental First Amendment principle was a formal elaboration of a long held view. In 2002, while attending a Vatican celebration of the birth of Opus Dei founder Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer, he told the National Catholic Reporter, President Kennedy’s position had caused “great harm in America.” He went to say, “All of us have heard people say, ‘I privately am against abortion, homosexual marriage, stem cell research, cloning. But who am I to decide that it’s not right for somebody else?’ It sounds good, but it is the corruption of freedom of conscience.”
What the former senator derides as “the corruption of freedom of conscience” was actually JFK’s pledge not to give in to the temptation of using government to invoke religious supremacy; something often visited upon Catholics in America’s past.
But there is a clear Catholic case against Santorum. In his support for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, he chose the bellicose policy of George W. Bush over the trepidation of Pope John Paul II. His embrace of laissez-faire economic runs afoul of Pope Benedict XVI’s recent encyclical, Caritas in veritate (“Charity in truth”). His support for the teaching of Intelligent Design appears to be more of a political sign to friendly conservative Evangelicals than a sign of fealty to Rome (in 2006 the Director of the Vatican’s observatory severely rebuked the entire concept). He has taken extremely large campaign contributions from the tobacco industry.
Indeed, Santorum’s tobacco industry contributions do not square with his very public anti-abortion pronouncements. According to The March of Dimes, both first-hand and second-hand tobacco smoke is hazardous to any fetus: Statistics from the United States are compelling. According to the U.S. Public Health Service, if all pregnant women in this country stopped smoking, there would be an estimated 11 percent reduction in stillbirths; 5 percent reduction in newborn deaths. Cigarette smoke contains more than 2,500 chemicals. It is not known for certain which of these chemicals are harmful to the developing baby, but both nicotine and carbon monoxide play a role in causing adverse pregnancy outcomes.
Catholic neoconservatism is making its presence felt in this year’s Presidential Election. It is not inconceivable that one of their number may soon be one heartbeat away from the presidency.