Rick Santorum, in a speech at Ave Maria University in 2008, asserted that Satan had set his sites on America. Santorum recently deflected questions about the speech by saying it was not relevant to his campaign. But hold on. If Satan is coming, and has been on the road for four years already, it seems possible, even without knowing Satan’s exact route on Google Maps, that he will arrive sometime during the next presidential term. Shouldn’t Santorum have some thoughts about this?
I hate evil as much as the next guy or gal, though perhaps not as much as Santorum and the Church lady.
But If the devil is on the way, that’s the beginning of the inquiry, not the end of it. Who and what is he coming for? Santorum and his political opposites—progressive people of all religious faiths (and some lacking faith) who think the core values of this country are tolerance, fairness, inclusiveness, and equality of opportunity—do agree on something: America has gotten off course. Yet here is the interesting twist. Santorum wants extreme and permissive, do-your-own-thing liberty, infused with his fundamentalist catholicism. Four years ago Santorum was predicting the arrival of Satan. Today he contends that the solution to our country’s educational problems is to eliminate federal support, and for each individual child to have an educational program fashioned just for her. Santorum, “likened his view to the way private businesses respond to customer needs and mentioned his visit to the BMW plant in South Carolina. ‘Why not have an education system that is custom-made for every child that is educated in America?’” In other words, why have kids go to school at all, where they might learn to appreciate and tolerate other peoples’ perspectives? Instead, let’s fashion individualized educational programs, and heck, why stop there, individualized life programs for every single one of us.
Santorum’s nirvana appears to be a Haight Ashbury circa 1968/Opus Dei mash-up: Everyone on their own and for themselves, with nothing tying them together but fundamentalist dogmatism. Progressive people, on the other hand, want a return to shared norms of responsibility for one another, investment in institutions that will further those norms (primary and secondary schools, public transportation, higher education, to name a few), and some sense that we are more than just a collection of persons whose needs are so exquisitely individualized that only a “custom-made” life will do. Progressives urge tolerance for what does not concern us collectively (e.g., choices about who to love, who to marry, whether to have children and how many,) and support for what we can only achieve collectively (e.g., access to justice, public education, public infrastructure, a clean and healthy environment.) Santorum sees Satan in what we do with our partners, our bodies, our private lives. Progressives see the devil, though they may not call it that, in what we fail to do together, in and for our public lives.
So if Satan is en route, what to do? Denounce people whose religious beliefs and choices about who to love are not like yours? Buy personally customized BMW’s? Arrange for public policy to replicate the workings of a BMW plant? It is all so confusing. For progressive people, it is confusing too. If the devil is the unraveling of the social contract, how do we sew it back together? This leads to a discussion of causes, which are much mightier than Rick Santorum, and beyond the scope of this post. A brief synopsis: the concentration of wealth, power, and influence, facilitated by law, that has corrupted politics and savaged democracy. Isn’t that special?