The Devil and Rick Santorum

Many of Rick Santorum’s seemingly endless controversial remarks are quite defensible, but it’s becoming a rather Sisyphean chore to defend them.

The former Pennsylvania Senator and current Republican presidential candidate struggled mightily to stay on his economic message in an interview with CNN Tuesday, telling the network that “I’m going to stay on message, I’m going to talk about the things Americans want to talk about,” but it was to no avail. The report was about a speech Santorum gave four years ago at Florida’s Ave Maria University, in which he said that Satan was “attacking the great institutions of America” and that mainline Protestantism “is in shambles,” and on Tuesday, at least, that seemed to be the main thing politically-minded Americans wanted to talk about.

The mighty Drudge Report shouted the story from the top of its well-read page, offering the most incendiary snippets of the speech. The pugnacious New York Daily News weighed in with a shocked account of “Santorum’s extreme right-wing social positions.” The Christian Science Monitor, founded by a church with its own controversies, wondered “Does Rick Santorum have a Satan problem?” The left side of blogosphere went predictably crazy with the story, calling Santorum everything from a “nutjob” to a “semi-popular Sinclair Lewis character,” while the right side was conspicuously more reticent about the matter. Rush Limbaugh devoted much of his influential radio show to the issue, mostly to decry the double standard that other media apply to the religious views of conservatives, but even he conceded that “Santorum will have to answer on Satan.”

Santorum vows he will have answers, and they deserve a hearing before voters render any judgments. The idea that there is a supernatural force tempting mankind to evil is a tenet of many religions, including several that are non-western and therefore exempt from criticism by the same sorts of leftist commentators heaping ridicule on Santorum, was once embraced by many successful presidents of the past, and remains a widely-held belief even in modern America. The opinion that America’s mainline Protestant churches have gone theologically and politically squishy is widely shared by many Protestants of the sterner denominations.

Limbaugh is quite right in noting the double standards that prevail in much of the media, of course. When President Obama used the occasion of the National Day of Prayer to revive the old Social Gospel spiel to argue for higher tax rates on the wealthy, saying that “For Me, as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’ teaching that ‘for unto whom much is given, much shall be required,’” no one worried that a theocratic dictatorship was about to descend on the land. Nor did Obama’s 20-year relationship with the race-baiting, America-hating crazypants Rev. Jeremiah Wright ever receive anything like the proctological degree of media scrutiny devoted to Santorum’s four-year-old speeches. Nor do the media ever question the post-modern moral relativism that denies the very existence of evil, an idea every bit as wacky as anything that might come out of Rick Santorum’s mouth.

Limbaugh is also right to admit that the speech requires some answers, however, and therein lies an inescapable problem for Santorum and the Republican party he hopes to represent. Time spent reassuring the public that he won’t impose a Catholic version of sharia on the country is time that Santorum can’t devote to talking about the slowest economic recovery since the Great Depression, the trillions of dollars of debt that have been racked up in a futile attempt to revive the economy, the stunning incompetence of Fast and Furious and Solyndra and Lightsquared and numerous other scandals, rising gas and food prices, a deteriorating international situation, and dozens of other issues more pressing than four-year-old sermons. It looks unlikely that Santorum will ever get back on message, but the sooner the party does, the better.

— Bud Norman