John and I feel stymied. We’re both buried in work right now, but there is so much to write about. I know I will be back here tomorrow with more, but for now will limit myself to some quick hits.
A conservative double standard
I’ll start with a short rant. It is clear to anyone following the conservative Twitterverse and blogosphere — or anywhere the right-of-center punditocracy hangs out — that the overwhelming majority of those writers will give Rick Santorum a pass on every ill-considered statement he makes, but will crucify Mitt Romney for calling himself “severely conservative,” which was simply a slip of the tongue.
I am a conservative but I recognize that our side can often be truly boorish too. I was not a Harriet Miers fan, but I remember when National Review compared her to Caligula’s horse, in an apparent attempt at humor that many of them seemed to find hilarious.
Romney’s conservative critics are relentlessly bringing the same snarky humor to bear on him. In the last two days Donald Douglas has referred to Jen Rubin as “the resident Romney shill at the Washington Post.” Douglas’s post was tweeted and retweeted multiple times by approving conservative writers.
One of Romney’s daughters in-law posted candid family photos, which are described snidely as “25 Photos Of Mitt Romney Looking Perfectly Normal.“ Really? I thought they were simply nice pictures of an exemplary American family.
That’s Daily Kos stuff. We cons are better than that, or at least I like to think we should be.
Santorum: not now
John wrote eloquently in yesterday’s post about needing the right man or woman at the right time.
To me, the problem is that Santorum makes bombastic statements capable of multiple interpretations, and often has to walk them back. It doesn’t help that he has a record of being a vocal social conservative, so that his ambiguous statements are given the most damaging interpretations. This is not the news media’s fault, in my opinion, and we conservatives should stop apologizing for Santorum.
Not everyone on the right is apologizing. In Commentary Pete Wehner eloquently addresses, and adds to, the point Bill McGurn made in the Wall Street Journal (and which John cited yesterday).
The main (though not exclusive) problem for Santorum is his rhetorical approach to social issues. He’s said he would be the one president who would talk about the damage contraception does to American society. He’s spoken quite openly about criminalizing doctors who perform abortions. He’s made a passionate case against prenatal testing. He’s been quite forthright in his views against homosexual acts, about women in combat, and about women in the workforce. He’s given a speech in which he’s said Satan has systematically targeted the key institutions in American life. The danger for Santorum is that, fairly or not, these statements and stands, separately and (especially) combined, create a portrait of a person who is censorious and sits in critical judgment of the lifestyle of most Americans….
It’s almost impossible to overstate how important tone and countenance are when it comes to social issues. There is a great deal to be said for those who care about the cultural condition of American society. But the arguments on behalf of moral truth need to be made in ways that are winsome, in a manner that is meant to persuade. What this means, in part, is the person making the arguments needs to radiate some measure of grace and tolerance rather than condemnation and zeal. What we’re talking about is using a light touch rather than a heavy hand. To understand the difference, think about how the language (and spirit) of the pro-life movement shifted from accusing people of being “baby killers” to asking Americans to join a movement in which every unborn child is protected in law and welcomed in life. Social conservatism, if it ever hopes to succeed, needs to be articulated in a way that is seen as promoting the human good and advancing human dignity, rather than declaring a series of forbidden acts that are leading us to Gomorrah.
..Santorum’s problem is — forgive the technical graduate-school political-science terminology here — that he’s a sourpuss, and sourpusses don’t get elected president.
The former Pennsylvania senator looks like he swallowed a lemon — and he acts like America is the lemon he swallowed….
Remember: This entire process is a job interview in which the candidates are trying to get hired by the electorate. Insulting the electorate and accusing it of spiritual weakness and sinfulness are not the ways to get yourself the job of president.
I am less sanguine about Santorum than John is. I don’t think he has the right mix of policy views and leadership traits to be a good president, now or in the future. If the Senator is nominated I’d vote for him against Barack Obama, who I think has even less of those necessary attributes, but I am convinced my vote would be merely a statement of position, made while Obama wins 40 states. We’ll see.
That’s putting it mildly Lowell! And you accuse me of being sanguine. Robert Jeffress says “Mormons are not Christians” and they right leaning punditry erupts in a furor. Rick Santorum says “mainline Protestants are gone from the world of Christianity” and the sound of crickets fills the night – at least on the right side of the aisle. Jeffress was saying what he believes and so was Santorum, it is in fact Catholic doctrine that none of us are Christians but them. That’s OK – America is about differing religious views co-existing to the benefit of the nation as a whole. But that co-existence is based on knowing when to invoke religious doctrine and when not to.
Well, Jeffress made his comments at a political event and Santorum made his comments in a religious setting. Maybe Santorum never anticipated running for president, I don’t know, but let’s look at another double standard. It is Mormon doctrine that they are the church restored, and rest of us have corrupted in one fashion or the other – they are not willing to condemn us to hell (just lower levels of heaven) on that basis, as some would, but that is their doctrine. (Lowell, please correct me if I got this wrong.)
Now, let’s imagine a future general election is which an audio or video tape of Mitt Romney speaking at a Mormon gathering of some sort on the Mormon doctrine I just laid out – “Mormonism is the church properly restored!” What precisely do you think is going to happen? Are the leading Christians on the right going to stand silently by while the left savages him as they are with Santorum? Somehow, I don’t think so. Somehow, I think the outrage would be immense, not to mention the election lost.
There are two points to make out of this imagined scenario. One, there is definitely a double standard on the right – there is a tolerance of Catholic doctrine where there is not of Mormon doctrine. That’s a huge problem. But the second point is a more subtle one.
I think what we are witnessing with Santorum is a dress rehearsal for the general. Team Obama is going to try to use religion to drive a wedge in his opposition. That’s probably why everyone is so silent about Santorum’s missteps here – they do not want to supply Obama with the ammo. But it is too late for that – The anti-Mormon bias that is so evident and the prior reactions to it mean we will only be discounted as hypocritical. Setting of comments not withstanding, it is public knowledge now, we have no choice but to condemn Santorum’s statements.
So what happens if such a tape of Romney does appear? Firstly, I don’t think it will, but secondly Mormon doctrine is much more subtle than Catholic or Evangelical. Mormons don’t think the rest of us non-Christian, just lesser-Christian. That’s a pretty big difference. You’ll NEVER find evidence of Romney saying someone of a different church is “not a Christian” or “gone from the world of Christianity” because they don’t believe it.
And then there is Romney’s “Faith in America” speech from December 2007. (The video is in our widget on the left – scroll through) In that speech Romney made an excellent case for the religious pluralism that is this nation while defending his right to his personal faith. Do we have such a speech from Santorum? If we did, Santorum could quit stumblin’ — bumblin’ — fumblin’ (Nod to Chris Berman) his way through the last few days and just point to said speech. Is Santorum trying to articulate the case for religious pluralism in America while defending his personal faith? Nope. he’s trying to play the spin game.
That’s why this attack IS working against Santorum, but will not work when Obama tries it in the general – at least if we are smart enough to nominate Mitt Romney. But if we do not acknowledge the problems with Santorum’s statements we still run a grave risk of being discounted as hypocritical religious bigots because of what has gone before. That is not where we want to be.