Rick Santorum deserves to win the Republican primary and represent his party in the contest for the presidency of the United States. He is the quintessence of the modern Republican party — a candidate who is the purest, most concentrated extract of a philosophy grounded in fear, scapegoating, finger-pointing and resentment.
It wasn’t that long ago, really, when the Republican party was what it still claims to be — a political party dedicated to the idea of a small government that interfered as little as possible in regulating the workings of the nation and its citizens. It was a philosophy grounded in an idealized and romanticized past, in the belief that life was better before. Before there was so much immigration, before laws and regulations were reformed, before workers became so dissatisfied, before.
There’s something almost innocent about that notion. They didn’t blame individual immigrants; they blamed the phenomenon of immigration. They didn’t vilify specific workers; they vilified the movements that encouraged workers to be discontented with their situation. They accepted there was some need to reform laws and regulation, but they resented the reform process. And they accepted the fact that somebody could disagree with their approach and still have the best interests of the nation at heart. The concept of ‘the loyal opposition’ wasn’t foreign to them. The Republican party espoused a positive conservative approach. It’s one I disagree with, but they had actual ideas they believed would improve things.
Then came Newt Gingrich, who discovered you could win elections not just by suggesting that your opponent’s policies were ineffective and possibly harmful, but by claiming your opponent was actively and intentionally trying to destroy everything that is and was good about this nation. I’m not convinced Gingrich actually believed that; I suspect it was just a cynical strategy to win elections. But in the span of just a couple of election cycles, the Republican party turned away from the notion that Democrats were just wrong-headed and toward the notion that Democrats were an actual threat that needed to be stopped in order to save the nation. There was no more ‘loyal opposition.’ There were only enemies to be defeated.
Elections became less about how to improve the nation and more about who to blame for the current shitty state of affairs. And the Gingrich approach worked; the Republicans started winning elections.
Rick Santorum is Newt Gingrich without the beard of cynicism. He’s not just saying stuff to win an election; he appears to actually believe what he’s saying. Sadly, he’s steeped in the same toxic brew of blame. The United States would be a better place if only the wicked elements could be expunged and we could return to the way things were before. Before there was contraception, before gay folks were visible, before there was all this fuss about the climate, before that evolution nonsense.
But the natural result of turning people who hold different beliefs and opinions into enemies is that you can’t contain it. You can’t restrict it just to the opposing political party. It necessarily morphs into an increasingly more paranoid purity test. If you fail to meet the narrowing standards of your own party, you join the ranks of the enemy. The organic result is a Republican party whose base actually believes Mitt Romney is a liberal — a party whose base believes Rick Perry, who casually talks about secession from the Union, has liberal tendencies because he doesn’t blame immigrants quite enough.
Right now Rick Santorum is the perfect distillate of what has become the modern Republican party — self-righteous, judgmental, angry, fearful, moralistic, scolding. It won’t be long, though, before he’ll be seen as another liberal. It’s only a matter of time.