John on February 23, 2012 at 11:28 am
Ben Shapiro posted this over at Big Government. He argues that this is Santorum hitting a pitch perfect tone:
Per the discussion we’ve been having here at VS, I think there is a very fine line Santorum has to walk if he wants to win. On the one hand he is who he is. His faith informs his thinking on many issues. He can’t walk away from that. On the other hand, he is very prone to offering people too much of a good thing.
A Battle of Faiths
Since the loss of 2004, which was widely attributed to George W. Bush’s strong evangelical support, Democrats have actively worked to bolsters their God-credentials. Not surprisingly, they found a postcard-perfect, Christian family man to run in 2008. And when questions were raised about the exact nature of his Christianity (Rev. Jeremiah Wright?!) the left panicked and declared such questions out of bounds. The media mostly went along.
Contrary to Ann Coulter, I don’t think Obama is secretly an atheist, though I would agree he’s not your average evangelical or Catholic. He’s coming from a different perspective, something that Rick Santorum has tried to raise, however inartfully. That difference is significant but hasn’t really been explored in public despite being very central to who the President is.
You can’t listen to Obama and avoid the fact that his faith has a certain character. All that stuff about people paying their “fair share” in the last SOTU doesn’t come from his study of economics, it’s his faith-formed view of the world displaying itself in the guise of tax policy. He’s making a moral argument for higher taxes on the rich. And here’s the key bit, his tax views are every bit as religious in nature as Santorum’s pro-life views. In fact, I think Obama is probably nearly as religious as Santorum it’s just that it comes out in different ways.
Obama is very practiced at framing his views (about tax policy) without directly alluding to his personal, religious reasons for pursuing those policies. By contrast, Rick Santorum often seems incapable of leaving out his deeper spiritual motivations. He wants to show you his homework. He is eager as a puppy to tell people why he’s doing things and, indeed, why others including the President are doing the things they are doing. What he often doesn’t seem to get is that the public is put off by that. They don’t mind someone making a religiously-tinged argument for this or that, but they don’t want to hear a theology lecture. They don’t want to see Rick’s homework.
Felt, Not Heard
I realize the whole discussion gives some people the creeps. But you really can’t deny that Obama and his people are making moral, religious arguments. If we fail to do likewise that doesn’t make those arguments from the left less powerful, it makes them more powerful. Make no mistake, Obama is running a fundamentally religious campaign this year, even if secular ears tend to tune out those frequencies. He has to run that way. He can’t win on the numbers.
If Santorum won the nomination and faced Obama in the general, it wouldn’t be a conflict between religion and secularism it would be a conflict between two different views of Christianity, one conservative and one liberal. What I argued with co-bloggers is that perhaps this is a battle worth having and one we won’t have if Romney is the nominee. Democrats learned this the hard way in 2004. It’s not a good idea to cede the politics of God to the other side of the aisle.
That said, the rule in American politics today is that religion should be felt and not heard. Obama has really mastered that skill and Santorum has not.
To win, Rick Santorum is going to have to quickly learn the felt, not heard rule. He can talk about “forces of evil” as he did above convincingly and get a good result from it. When he starts talking about Satan, he loses. The same goes for his views on abortion. He can make a powerful argument for the right to life as fundamental in America but once he starts arguing about natural family planning vs. the pill, he loses. Americans want to feel it. The don’t want to hear it. It’s that simple.
Personally, I’d like to see Santorum take on Obama. He’s really the only candidate who even sees this dynamic happening and the only one who can push back on these issues with the same gravitas that Obama can sometimes muster. It’s the reason he’s leading in the polls. But he’s got to be smarter about it. He’s already made too many mistakes on this front. I don’t think he can afford many more before his support drops. There’s a fine line to tread between the emotive, religious power of “forces of evil” and the laughable farce of a dogmatic bozo nightmare.
Update: Morgen shared this link to an old interview Obama gave about his faith. It’s all worth reading but I think this excerpt from Obama himself confirms much of what I argued above:
Obama: A standard line in my stump speech during this campaign is that my politics are informed by a belief that we’re all connected. That if there’s a child on the South Side of Chicago that can’t read, that makes a difference in my life even if it’s not my own child. If there’s a senior citizen in downstate Illinois that’s struggling to pay for their medicine and having to chose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer even if it’s not my grandparent. And if there’s an Arab American family that’s being rounded up by John Ashcroft without the benefit of due process, that threatens my civil liberties.
I can give religious expression to that. I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper, we are all children of God. Or I can express it in secular terms. But the basic premise remains the same. I think sometimes Democrats have made the mistake of shying away from a conversation about values for fear that they sacrifice the important value of tolerance. And I don’t think those two things are mutually exclusive.
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