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Hawk in a Clown-Car Field

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Posted on Jan 8, 2012
Gage Skidmore (CC-BY-SA)

By Eugene Robinson

Before there was the tea party to define the phrase “far-right fringe,” there was Rick Santorum. He’s a nice-guy zealot who should never be allowed anywhere near the Oval Office.

It’s understandable that progressives would be tempted to cheer Santorum’s sudden rise as a viable candidate for the Republican nomination. The likely nominee, Mitt Romney, would love to be able to modulate his rhetoric and begin running a more centrist campaign that could appeal to independents in November. But if Santorum continues to pose a threat, Romney will likely have to move even further right—ceding valuable political ground to President Obama.

And if Santorum somehow manages to win the nomination, he will be easier for Obama to beat than Romney. I mean, Obama beats him easily. Doesn’t he?

But I know there’s no such thing as an airtight guarantee, and that’s why those welcoming the Santorum surge for Machiavellian reasons should be careful what they wish for.

I mentioned that he’s a nice guy. Unlike Romney, Santorum is perfectly at ease chitchatting with strangers. He makes eye contact, engages the person he’s talking to and gives the impression that he’s speaking from the heart, not from a position paper. He seems genuine.


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The problem is that his views are genuinely extreme and, in some instances, patently offensive. He is a cultural warrior who has equated same-sex marriage with polygamy, pedophilia and bestiality—and argued that gays and lesbians should not serve openly in the military because “they’re in close quarters, they live with people, they obviously shower with people.”

Don’t worry: Santorum says he doesn’t have a problem with homosexuality, just with “homosexual acts.” So, all you gay people out there, just go sit in a corner. And no touching.

For heterosexuals, Santorum wants to end federal funding for contraception. Yes, he opposes birth control. Contraception, he said in October, is “not OK”  because it gives people “a license to do things in a sexual realm that are counter to how things are supposed to be.” Thankfully, no one asked the obvious follow-up question.

Santorum also has linked the projected Social Security shortfall to rampant contraception—basically, birth control means fewer babies who would grow up to be workers whose payroll taxes would support the hordes of retirees who were born in simpler, purer times, when condoms were kept behind the counter and dispensed only at the whim of a stern and judgmental pharmacist.

Santorum is implacably opposed to Obama’s health care reforms. Among other objections, he has said that insurance companies should continue to have the right to deny coverage—or charge more—for individuals who have preexisting conditions. “I’m OK with that,” he said last month.

On the other hand—and this is what makes him potentially a tougher opponent for Obama than many people think—Santorum, unlike the other Republican contenders, has a discernible social conscience. During the debates, he has spoken eloquently of the pain that blue-collar families are feeling because of economic dislocation. His platform includes a plan to give preferential treatment to the manufacturing sector—according to free-market dogma, a forbidden exercise in “picking winners and losers.”

Santorum’s working-class background and manner might give him an appeal to Rust Belt voters that Romney could never match. And while Santorum lost his last election by a landslide, no one can doubt that he’s a skilled politician. A couple of months ago, he was driving himself to campaign stops in order to save money. Look where he is now.

And look where we would be if somehow he got elected: quite possibly, at war with Iran.

I do not say this lightly. With the exception of Ron Paul, the Republican candidates have competed to see who can be most hawkish on Iran’s nuclear program. Santorum wins, hands down. He has said flatly that unless Iran agrees to open its nuclear facilities to inspection and begins to dismantle them, as president he would order military strikes. In fact, Iran is already under nuclear inspection, but Santorum seems not to care. He has said he believes an attack by Israel or the U.S. is probably inevitable.

It’s quite difficult for a president to change the nation’s culture. It’s quite easy for a president to start a war. Yes, the GOP’s clown-car nomination battle is a source of amusement. The prospect of a Santorum presidency, though, is a source of alarm.

Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)
© 2011, Washington Post Writers Group

New and Improved Comments

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By Lois, January 11, 2012 at 8:39 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Two-thirds of our Supreme Court justices are CATHOLIC!  Do we really want to
give control of another branch of our government to the Pope?

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By Paul McGuire, January 11, 2012 at 3:09 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“...send in the clowns, there ought to be clowns -
don’t bother they’re here.”

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By Big C, January 10, 2012 at 12:33 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Hopefully this Santorum hype will get put to rest
after New Hampshire….  I can only hope. 

Santorum is the kind of proverbial character, who, if
elected to the office of president, will compel many
to leave the country.

You can gripe about Obama, but his election didn’t
cause a mass exodus of intellectuals out of the
country, as I suspect Santorum’s would.

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By Rluderitz, January 10, 2012 at 7:04 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

If this country were to elect Rick Santorum, it would most certainly deserve him.

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prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, January 9, 2012 at 11:02 pm Link to this comment

What is scary to me is just how many people think that this man would make a good
president. There are many millions of them who will gladly vote for this man or someone
just like him. This one of the most dificult problems our country faces. We will never
progress as a nation as long as we have so many backward ignorant people.

Report this

By SteveL, January 9, 2012 at 10:31 pm Link to this comment

When is some reporter going to pump up his flea-sized balls and ask this clown
when he is going to take vouchers for his health care?

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James M. Martin's avatar

By James M. Martin, January 9, 2012 at 4:01 pm Link to this comment

The trouble with candidates like Santorum is that they ultimately appeal only to social conservatives.  Now that jobs have become almost the exclusive focus of the elections, these wedge issues may still have the power of driving the social conservatives to the polls, but they cannot pick up more than about 20% of the vote—in the GOP primaries.  His position on homosexuality is merely ignorant and homophobic; one should not waste time speculating if the ignorance and homophobia are dogma-based (e.g. the O.T., a six or seven thousand year old book that presentists claim viable in addressing 21st century issues.  Not.) or merely the personal fears of a person who would interest Freud in his studies of “projection.”  These people do not have a chance of being elected if nominated, which is why they are useless to Karl Rove and the rest of the GOP election operatives.  Obama would love having Santorum as his opponent, but hey, it ain’t gonna happen, folks.

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By Big B, January 9, 2012 at 12:35 pm Link to this comment

Even GW was smart enough to keep his extremist personal views to himself while campaigning for POTUS. Santorum is a rube from pennsyltucky. A closeted self loathing homosexual who loves kids, as long as they aren’t poor, and hates women. The people of his ilk, the wacko christian right has a plan, however. If they can keep the Mit on his heels until the primaries start in the south and southwest, they may gather enough support to force an open convention, and then they can nominate somebody that can be “acceptable” to the repug masses(and that would, under no circumstances, be a MORMON)

All hail the Petraus/Santorum ticket!

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oddsox's avatar

By oddsox, January 9, 2012 at 9:08 am Link to this comment

Support for Santorum will melt like snow in June.
Barring a Ron Paul Miracle (can you say “Tim Tebow?”), it’ll be Romney vs. Obama in November.

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By liz, January 9, 2012 at 8:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

great post Gene!

If Santorum wins he can choose Joel Olsteen as his running mate

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By James Ewen, January 9, 2012 at 12:03 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All the Republican candidates are really scary. Santorum and Perry are religious zealots who would force their extremist religious views into our government. They would persecute gays and have us involved in more “Crusades” (wars) against the “heretical” Muslims in no time flat. God help us if they get elected. Ron Paul’s foreign policy of reigning in our corporate empire is good. But his plan to destroy our government would mean an end to Social Security and Medicare and leave us defenseless to resist corporate greed, pollution, outsourcing and complete domination.

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By Roger Lafontaine, January 8, 2012 at 9:30 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This election is already lost, because on the one hand we have the crazy, ignorant, stupid, ignoble Republicans and on the other we have Obama - puppet of Wall Street and War Street. There is a ‘glass ceiling’ to our democracy. Above that ceiling there is in fact a burgeoning police state.

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By Santorum Who?, January 8, 2012 at 9:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Once Newt is out of the way and Romney has been sufficiently pushed to the extreme right, the same people who are propping him now will send him off to the showers. He is a tool and if he’s not smart enough to know it then he’s not smart enough to do what it takes to becoem the next POTUS.
Besides, he would not survive a debate with Obama, let alone several, smarts wise and any other wise, really. I mean, if Santorum wants to play hawk, Obama only needs to bring OBL’s head to the debate. And O he will.

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By Inherit The Wind, January 8, 2012 at 8:13 pm Link to this comment

Ok. Santorum’s nuts and amiable.  We got that.  Is there something else?

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Robespierre115's avatar

By Robespierre115, January 8, 2012 at 5:11 pm Link to this comment

“And look where we would be if somehow he got elected: quite possibly, at war with Iran.

I do not say this lightly. With the exception of Ron Paul, the Republican candidates have competed to see who can be most hawkish on Iran’s nuclear program. Santorum wins, hands down. He has said flatly that unless Iran agrees to open its nuclear facilities to inspection and begins to dismantle them, as president he would order military strikes.”

Sorry Eugene, but this section applies to your god Obama as well.

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By balkas, January 8, 2012 at 5:05 pm Link to this comment

one more “show up, don’t tell” by robinson. he
loves criticizing GOP or some of their members.

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