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"Religion, Politics, the Presidency: Commentary by a Mormon, an Evangelical, and an Orthodox Christian"

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The Right Battle At The Right Time

Posted by: John Schroeder at 11:00 pm, February 20th 2012     —    2 Comments »

I have spent most of this long weekend fighting a vague sense of guilt.  I have spent it piling on Rick Santorum.  Santorum is one of the good guys, hence the guilt.  Not to mention the fact that our pile on has resulted in us being quoted all over the left wing blogosphere by people that we have nothing in common with here – people who are generally our biggest political opponents.  It’s not really a comfortable place to be.

The guilt hit really hard this morning when I read this from Hugh Hewitt:

The latest PPP poll shows the race in Michigan moving towards Romney, and the only reason I cite a PPP poll is because the last PPP poll showed a large lead for Santorum.  (Santorum was allegedly ahead by 15 points last week and by 4 now.  Right.)  The MSM cannot help itself and is systematically defining the former Pennsylvania senator as outside of the American mainstream by latching on to bits of his speeches or a single Q-and-A, such as his comments on prenatal testing, and turning them into entire news cycle, often distorting the key messages on the economy Santorum is delivering along the way.  The left’s desire to wound Romney with a Santorum win in Michigan has been undermined by the left’s inability to let any discussion of abortion, religious liberty, contraception or genetic testing emerge that challenges the world view of the pro-choice absolutists.

That is not a bad description of what we have been dong here, and the last thing I want to do is be cast with “pro-choice absolutists.”  So in contemplating my actions of the last few days I turned to another writing that Hewitt participated in.  I am currently reading “Eisenhower at War 1943-1945” by David Eisenhower.  In the acknowledgements David Eisenhower, grandson of the book’s subject, credits Hewitt with handling some special research projects used in the books preparation.

One of the things the book makes plain is that to win a war you need the right people in the right place at the time when conditions are right.  So, for example, it makes plain that the D-Day invasion would have never have been even close to successful if the Eastern Front had not matured to the point it had.  That being the case, had the invasion proceeded under lesser circumstances than it did, Eisenhower might not have even been its commander, and if he had been he would certainly not be considered the military master he is.  History is a fickle mistress and good people, even very good people, in the wrong place at the wrong time will never get done what needs to be done.

And so we did what we did this past weekend in piling on such a very good man and making apparent common cause with our normal opponents.  Rick Santorum is not the man for the war in its current stage, good man though he may be.  Patton served as an apparently out-of-favor decoy during the Overlord invasion, but proved the masterful battle commander all knew him to be when the beachhead was well established.

It seems plain that while Santorum is messaging the economy and foreign policy, his now beginning-to-fade surge in the polls has been driven by the same forces that have powered the preceding “not Romney’s” – social conservatives that think social issues should be the focus of the campaign.  They have been ably assisted by Barack Obama trying to push social issues to the fore precisely because he knows now is not the time.  He knows that social cons are opposed to Romney, his strongest potential opponent, because they perceive him as weak on social issues – a perception that, at least for some, is born of religious bias not reality.

In the Santorum narrative that has/is developing we are given two strong pieces of evidence that Santorum is not the man for this time.  The first is the “bits of his speeches or a single Q-and-A” that have been latched onto not only by the MSM, but ourselves as well.  Such lapses, coming in the sort of rapid fire fashion that they have, show him to be a warrior still in need of maturity.  Patton’s time as a decoy taught him as much as it fooled the Germans.

Secondly, “the left’s inability to let any discussion of abortion, religious liberty, contraception or genetic testing emerge that challenges the world view of the pro-choice absolutists,” indicates strongly that the battlefield is not yet properly prepared for the type of full frontal assault that a Santorum might bring, and many of his supporters certainly want.  As the Germans needed to be softened up by the Russians from the east and the Anglo/Americans from the south – much needs to be done with regards to our society and culture before we are ready to attack some of these issues full on.

The HHS ruling is a clear cut constitutional affront and must be addressed – but many other issues are not so clear-cut.  Same sex marriage is gaining legislatively, not judicially – and many polls are moving in a direction that supports the legislative action.  Abortion has been the law of the land for so long now that for a couple of generations it is just part of the landscape.  Clearly, hearts and minds need to be changed.  That’s not something done with an invasion – that’s something done by special forces operating on or behind the lines.

Before we are ready for a Rick Santorum, we need unity, not religion-based division, amongst those of us for who social issues matter.  (Boy is that something a Romney presidency could help build.)  We need evangelizing, a lot of it.  In military terms that would be called recruitment.  We need education – or again in military terms, training.  All those recruits need to learn how, and how not, to argue these points.  More broadly, we have to build an army before we can turn loose a commander like Rick Santorum.

In the movie “Patton” when Karl Malden’s Omar Bradley tells George C. Scott’s George Patton that he is being given command of Fifth Army to break through and drive to Berlin he tells him that Eisenhower knew Patton would be the man for the job months before the invasion was even launched.  There may be, in fact there is an easily foreseeable, future time when Rick Santorum’s passion, skill and commitment to the important social issues of our day is precisely what we need in the White House.  But now is not that time.

And so, Santorum’s minor misspeaks and out-of-context declarations are as important as Patton’s famous ill-temper.  Not really a big deal in the grand scheme of his capabilities and character, but quite useful for helping develop both the warrior and the battlefield.

POSTSCRIPT: William McGurn at WSJ makes our essential point with precision:

These are important issues. They have large implications for society, and those few who have actually read “Humanae Vitae,” as Mr. Santorum has, might be surprised to find how prophetic that document was in its warnings about the consequences of the contraceptive mentality for society, including the weakening of the marriage bond. A presidential debate, however, is simply not the vehicle for clarifying the coherence of the Catholic Church’s view of human sexuality.

That doesn’t mean Mr. Santorum should compromise his views. To the contrary, he needs to keep his comments simple, clear, and focused on the political point he is hoping to make. That in turn will require letting pass a great deal that he might be itching to respond to.

Mr. Santorum cannot change the double standard. With a little discipline, however, he need not let himself be defined by it.

We said back on Saturday:

Let’s go back to “The Big Picture” above – the reason it matters is because when religion and social issues matter, Republicans lose.  It does not need to be any more complex than that.  Changing that fact is a matter for the church not politics.  No amount of arguing faith in the political realm will change it – the only thing that will change it is when the vast majority of the nation shares your religious views – that means evangelism, conversion, and retention – but it does not mean politics.

Like I said above – we want a candidate that IS socially conservative, but we do not want one that RUNS on being socially conservative.

And that is why we battle Santorum – we want to win.


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