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Santorum Takes on JFK

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 If we are lucky, the world will little note nor long remember former Sen. Rick Santorum's speech made earlier this month at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.  It was delivered to mark the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's famous speech in the same city before a group of Protestant clergy to quell their fears about a Roman Catholic being elected president.Rick Santourm.jpg

Note that I said the speech was made to mark the anniversary, not to celebrate it.  Santorum, who wants to run for President in 2012, used the occasion to posthumously bash Kennedy.

A key passage in Kennedy's speech quoted by Santorum was: "I believe in an America...where no Catholic prelate would tell the President - should he be Catholic - how to act...where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of

Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials."

For those who missed the 60's, Kennedy's speech was designed to confront the belief,

held by many Protestants, that in electing a Catholic as President we would be inviting the Pope to rule America.  I was a kid then and I remember hearing the rumors that the Pope was secretly building a tunnel from Canada to Washington, D.C. so he could sneak into the White House and...well, take over.

It was ludicrous, but it was effective.

To Santorum, the Kennedy speech was a disaster that did permanent damage.

It led directly to a secularization of American politics that has created, as Santorum put it, "a purely secular public square cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths."

It also laid the foundation for attacks on religion by the secular left that has led to denial of free speech rights to religious people and made them feel like "second-class citizens."

In Santorum's view, Kennedy's speech also led to a debasement of the first freedom - the freedom of religion -- so that it is now on "the lowest rung of interests to be considered when weighing rights against one another."

More Santorum:

"Kennedy's error also unleashed a new form of censorship that would make vows to the Almighty a constitutional offense, rob clergy of their First Amendment rights and deprive our leaders and our country of their inspired wisdom and guidance."

There are two things that are important in Santorum's speech: how he is using it to position himself in his run for President and how it reveals his view of what America

will be under (gulp) a President Santorum.

Santorum's speech is strewn with literary and theological allusions. He mentions Thomas Aquinas, Thomas More, St. Theresa of Avila, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Luther King and Rabbi Joshua Hershel.

In other words, he is establishing himself as the intellectual Republican conservative. I don't think he will get very far with that.  To Sarah Palin, Bonhoeffer may be a menu item in a German restaurant, but that doesn't stop her from being wildly popular with Republican conservatives. 

So, claiming the niche as the "thoughtful Republican conservative who cites Aquinas" may not be the best strategy, given the whack-a-doodles who are dominating the stage.

In another way, Santorum's speech gives an insight into the parallel universe of the conservative zeitgeist: People of faith as an oppressed minority, their voices stifled by the autocratic left, hiding in basements, listening for the sirens of the politically correct Polizie ready to invade their hiding place and take them away. The Anne Frank's of the 21st Century.

It is ludicrous, but it is effective.

As they do in college, we should compare and contrast the reality of modern America from the portrait painted by Santorum.

Are priests, rabbis and ministers gagged and, de facto, forbidden to express their views?  Of course not. There is ample evidence that religious leaders - and the politicians who claim to speak for the religious point of view -have no compunction about having their say, They are out there shouting in the public square with the best of them..

What Santorum argues, though, is that their expressions are not given proper weight. In America, he says, the concept of rights always outweighs the principal of morality. The courts decide, for instance, that the issue of gay marriage is a "right," when what it should be considering is: is it moral?

There are eternal, faith-based truths that declare it immoral, he says, and that should take precedence over any perceived rights.

To put it another way, the force of moral truths - as revealed by religion - should trump the relativistic, secular search for rights.  That is what America needs in this day and age.

Religious and moral truths are eternal verities and should rule.  Right are ephemeral and should be subordinate to these verities.

 Let's assume Santorum is right. How do we implement this form of government? Do we elect Rick Santorum and he asks religious leaders for their call on an issue and shapes his policies and actions accordingly? Isn't that what they do in Iran, with a council of ayatollahs making the calls and the government following along?

Thanks, but no thanks.

But it does prove what I have always thought about Santorum. He has one of the finest minds of the 13th Century.

-- TF

Read the full text of Santorum's speech here and the text of Kennedy's speech here.

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