Rick Santorum has been called a latter-day Savonarola.
That’s far too grand. He’s more like a small-town mullah.
“Satan has his sights on the United States of America,” the conservative presidential candidate 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.”
When, in heaven’s name, did sensuality become a vice? Next he’ll be banning Barry White.
Santorum is not merely engaged in a culture war but “a spiritual war,” as he called it four years ago.
”The Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country — the United States of America,” he told students at Ave Maria University in Florida. He added that mainline Protestantism in this country “is in shambles. It is gone from the world of Christianity as I see it.”
Satan strikes, a Catholic exorcist told me, when there are “soul wounds.” Santorum, who is considered “too Catholic” even by my uber-Catholic brothers, clearly believes that America’s soul wounds include men and women having sex for reasons other than procreation, people involved in same-sex relationships, women using contraception or having prenatal testing, environmentalists who elevate “the Earth above man,” women working outside the home, “anachronistic” public schools, Mormonism (which he said is considered “a dangerous cult” by some Christians), and President Barack Obama (whom he obliquely and oddly compared to Hitler and accused of having “some phony theology.”)
Santorum didn’t go as far as evangelist Franklin Graham, who heinously doubted the president’s Christianity on “Morning Joe.”
Mullah Rick, who has turned prayer into a career move, told ABC News’ Jake Tapper that he disagreed with the 1965 Supreme Court decision striking down a ban on contraception. And, in October, he insisted that contraception is “not OK. It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.”
Sanitarium, as he was once dubbed on “The Sopranos,” sometimes tries to temper his retrogressive sermons so as not to drive away independent and Republican women who like to work, see their kids taught by professionals and wear Victoria’s Secret.
He told The Washington Post last Friday that, while he doesn’t want to fund contraception through Planned Parenthood, he wouldn’t ban it: “The idea that I’m coming after your birth control is absurd. I was making a statement about my moral beliefs, but I won’t impose them on anyone else in this case.”
That doesn’t comfort me much. I’ve spent a career watching candidates deny they would do things that they went on to do as president, and watching presidents let their personal beliefs, desires and insecurities shape policy decisions.
Mullah Rick is casting doubt on issues of women’s health and safety that were settled a long time ago. We’re supposed to believe that if he got more power he’d drop his crusade?
The Huffington Post reports that Santorum told Philadelphia Magazine in 1995 that he “was basically pro-choice all my life, until I ran for Congress.” Then, he said, he read the “scientific literature.”
He seems to have decided that electoral gold lies in the ruthless exploitation of social and cultural wedge issues. Unlike the Bushes, he has no middle man to pander to prejudices; he turns the knife himself.
Why is it that Republicans don’t want government involved when it comes to the economy (opposing the auto bailouts) but do want government involved when it comes to telling people how to live their lives?
In a party always misty for bygone times bristling with ugly inequities, Santorum is successful because he’s not ashamed to admit that he wants to take the country backward.
Virginia’s Republican governor, Bob McDonnell, touted as a vice presidential prospect, also wants to drag women back into a cave.
This week, public outrage forced the Virginia Legislature to pause on its way to passing a creepy bill forcing women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound, which, for early procedures, would require a wand being inserted into the vagina — an invasion that anti-abortion groups hope would shame some women into changing their minds once they saw or heard about traits of the fetus.
Democratic Delegate Lionell Spruill hotly argued that the bill would force “legal rape.”
”I cannot believe that you would disrespect women and mothers in such a way,” he chided colleagues. “This legislation is simply mean-spirited, and it is bullying, bullying women simply because you can.”
While the Democratic-controlled Maryland House of Delegates just passed a bill that would allow same-sex marriage, the Republican-controlled Virginia Legislature passed a bill allowing private adoption agencies to discriminate against gays who want to be parents.
The Potomac River dividing those states seems to be getting wider by the day.
Maureen Dowd is a columnist for The New York Times.