Political Animal


February 27, 2012 9:58 AM Santorum Hurls

By Ed Kilgore

Though it was not an original remark, like Romney’s coziness with NASCAR owners rather than fans, Rick Santorum did double-down on a statement made last fall that reading John F. Kennedy’s famous 1960 Houston speech on church and state made him “want to throw up.” Once again, as Romney appears determined to come across as a sort of cartoon villain from a late nineteenth-century populist tract, Santorum seems locked in a perpetual casting-call for the Da Vinci Code (it doesn’t help that he sent two of his sons to a DC high school closely associated with the shadowy right-wing Catholic group Opus Dei).

It’s not surprising, of course, that Santorum is nauseated by the idea of church-state separation, the Jeffersonian “myth” that undergirds the “secularism” he has ascribed as Barack Obama’s “phony theology,” and as the primary instrument of Satan’s plan for the conquest of the United States. But Rick has certainly got his history wrong here:

Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, ‘No, faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate.’ Go on and read the speech. ‘I will have nothing to do with faith. I won’t consult with people of faith.’ It was an absolutist doctrine that was abhorrent at the time of 1960.

Uh, sorry, Rick, but far from articulating an “abhorrent” doctrine “for the first time,” JFK was telling his conservative Protestant interrogators in Houston precisely what they wanted to hear. While some conservative Catholics were indeed alarmed by what they perceived as Kennedy’s neo-Americanist heresy, conservative evangelicals in 1960—and particularly Southern Baptists—generally held views on the Establishment Clause that were difficult to distinguish from those of the ACLU.

That’s all radically changed since 1960, but JFK was hardly out of the American mainstream at the time. And despite some clerical horror at his Houston speech, Kennedy’s version of what it meant to be a Catholic politician in the United States certainly did not bother Catholic voters, who supported him at levels approaching 80%. When the liberal Catholic scholar Fr. Andrew Greely suggested in 1967 that JFK should be declared a “Doctor of the Universal Church” for his embodiment of what it meant to be a modern Catholic, he was simply exaggerating a fairly prevalent sentiment among American Catholic lay folk.

I am quite sure that characterization of Kennedy would make Rick Santorum hurl profusely. But it’s a reminder of what makes Santorum’s views on church-state issues, and on all the related “social issues,” so unusual. He is engaged not in a defense of Christian common-sense values against secular-socialist hordes in service to the Father of Lies, but an intra-Christian war in which hyper-traditionalist Catholics and hyper-conservative evangelicals come together to impose their views on believers and unbelievers alike. It’s a strange preoccupation for a professional politician, but then this is a strange year in Republican presidential politics.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • TR on February 27, 2012 10:12 AM:


    Santorum's an idiot and a liar. He attributed, as direct quotations, statements to JFK that JFK never made.

    "Read the speech"? I have, Rick. Maybe you should too.

  • SteveT on February 27, 2012 10:17 AM:

    Actually, the concept of separating church and state predates Jefferson by centuries. Originally it was intended to protect the church FROM secular governments.

    In the 800s bishops were often appointed, and even invested, by secular rulers. Since bishops were effectively the political rulers of their cities, it made sense for kings to want someone loyal to them in that position.

    This led to the appointment of bishops based on their loyalty to the Crown rather than their piety or loyalty to the church. Some bishops were even illiterate. The Cluniac reforms were the first attempt to end this practice.

    Throughout history, whenever religious authority is used to justify government actions the religion is ALWAYS corrupted to fit the needs of those in power.

  • Peter C on February 27, 2012 10:38 AM:

    YES! Rick - Run against BOTH Kennedy and Roosevelt! Good Idea!

    Also, associate yourself with vomit! That's a step up from the bodily fluids you are usually associated with.

  • Diane Rodriguez on February 27, 2012 10:57 AM:

    The distance between Santorum's extremist position that the "state" should be based on fundamentalist religious practices and Sharia law in fundamentalist Islamic practice are separated by a gnat's fart. His lack of sel awareness has risen to the need-for-medication level.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on February 27, 2012 11:12 AM:

    Mr. Kilgore - Why are you making war on the AmeriKKKan Taliban?

    Everyone knows that we need to have a good Theocratic State to keep the sheeple distracted during our conversion to an AmeriKKKan economy without a middle class!

  • G.Kerby on February 27, 2012 11:42 AM:

    JFK make him puke. So does he get all warm and fuzzy reading speeches by Father Coughlin ?

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on February 27, 2012 12:04 PM:

    I had the misfortune of having to watch Santorum embarrass himself Sunday morning with this bit of craziness--First with Stephanopoulus at the gym in the ladies locker room, where, fortunately, there were no 10-lb. plates I could hurl at the flat-screens--and then again on Meet the Press, which my brother was watching when I got home.

    Was I the only one watching and asking: What kind of shit is this dude snorting? He was hyped up like a squirrel on speed, people!!! In addition to the fact that he clearly had no idea what he was talking about, he was talking really fast and had this weird maniacal laugh. He definitely looked like he was having a serious psychotic/manic episode... It was rather disturbing if not outright frightening...

    So this rightwing nut is literally nuts... That's some scary shit...

  • martin on February 27, 2012 12:12 PM:

    I wish I could remember the name of the book, and I don't know if our library still has it, but it was an anti-catholic book from the late 50's early 60's,done in that pseudo-scholarly style loved by right wing crap writers. The thing I most remember about it is the claim catholics don't obey traffic laws because they answer to a higher authority.

    Maybe Santorum just wants to get some tickets fixed.

  • TCinLA on February 27, 2012 12:32 PM:

    Throughout history, whenever religious authority is used to justify government actions the religion is ALWAYS corrupted to fit the needs of those in power.

    Go back to the Council of Nicea, where the good Christian Fathers essentially rewrote their religion to make it palatable to the Emperor Constantine in return for his adoption of the "religion" as the State Religion of the Roman Empire, and so-called "Christianity" has been corrupted ever since.

    That is, if one assumes "Christianity" wasn't an invented bit of religious corruption to begin with. Consider these:

    Egypt, 3000 BC: Horus born on December 25 of a virgin, with a star in the east, adorned by three kings, a teacher at 12, ministry at 30, 12 disciples. Resurrected as a State God.

    Greece, 1200 BC: Attis, born December 25 of a virgin, crucified, dead three days and resurrected as a State God.

    Persia, 1200 BC: Mithra, born December 25 of a virgin, performed miracles, 12 disciples, dead three days and resurrected as a State God.

    India, 900 BC: Krishna, born December 25 of a virgin, performed miracles, resurrected as a State God.

    Greece, 500 BC: Dionysus, born December 25 of a virgin, performed miracles, proclaimed "King of Kings" and "Alpha and Omega," resurrected as a State God.

    Jesus Christ: born December 25 of a virgin, performed miracles, teacher at 12, minister at 30, 12 disciples, crucified, resurrected after three days to become a State God.

    Anyone note any plagiarism here????

  • Robert on February 27, 2012 12:58 PM:

    "Itís a strange preoccupation for a professional politician, but then this is a strange year in Republican presidential politics."

    Ed, I take it that when you say "strange" you actually mean "completely beyond the pale f.... crazy" year in Republican presidential politics, correct?

  • john sherman on February 27, 2012 1:03 PM:

    When Jimmy Carter was elected, someone asked Nat Hentoff whether it bothered him that a born-again Baptist was president, and he replied that the Southern Baptists had a better record on the separation of church and state than the ACLU.

    Since then, however, they have apparently decided that rather than be the victims of state establishment of religion (Jefferson's letter containing the "wall of separation" phrase was to reassure a Baptist congregation) they could be the beneficiaries. Religions seem to oppose being the victims of state oppression, but often don't mind being the oppressors.

  • Kathryn on February 27, 2012 1:07 PM:

    Thanks for post TCinLA, Bill Maher's movie "Religiolous" featured those same points and it gave me then and now a real comfort having gone to parochial school for twelve years, a generally pleasant experience but certainly heavily religious. I had no idea about the facts you just wrote about until I saw the movie.

    Rick's language is offensive as are his insane views, he's as bad as Michelle Bachmann but gets mocked less. I guess being a white male has it's perks once again.

  • joanneinDenver on February 27, 2012 1:16 PM:

    Nope, Kilgore, you have it wrong with this statement:

    "And despite some clerical horror at his Houston speech," Kennedy had the support of Catholic bishops with his speech; perhaps because of his final sentence in which he said that if there ever were a conflict between his conscience and his oath of office, he would resign the office.

    Contrast that with Santorum's justification for voting to violate his own conscience "Sometimes, you just have to take one for the team."

    The bishops are so obsessed with trying to divert public attention from the still horrific sex abuse scandals, that they will lock on to anything or anybody. I am heartsick, because even though I long ago left the church, the latest crimes were allegedly committed at St. James, a historic parish for my family.

  • Daddy Love on February 27, 2012 3:41 PM:

    Of course Rick Santorum is, you know, stupid.