Joe Conason’s Journal

Why Rick Santorum's denunciation of gays and endorsement of a Christian moral code isn't surprising at all.

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Church, state and Santorum
The reaction to Rick Santorum’s denunciation of gays in particular and sexual privacy in general tells us something we already should have known: Most Republicans will sell out their libertarian principles to placate the religious right — and say nothing when theocratic radicals, masquerading as “conservatives,” seek to impose fundamentalist morality as state policy. Too few will stand up, as did the late Barry Goldwater long ago, to challenge the theocrats and their threats.

Those threats intensify whenever the Republican leadership makes the slightest gesture of inclusion toward gays, as RNC chairman Marc Racicot learned recently. For the sin of meeting with members of the Human Rights Campaign, the Family Research Council’s president Kenneth Conner warned Racicot that he risked forfeiting the party’s “pro-family … grassroots voter base.”

Some conservatives profess to be “shocked” by the tenor of Santorum’s remarks, notably Andrew Sullivan, whose wide-eyed reaction is that he has “rarely heard about the government’s rights against the individual. And from a Republican!” Sullivan seems to have woken up, at least momentarily, and his analysis today is worth reading. Maybe before he returns to blessed mental slumber, he’ll ask his idol George W. Bush about the Texas case that provoked Santorum — and about the state “platform” ratified by the Texas GOP last year.

For anyone familiar with the religious right, as Sullivan has sometimes claimed to be, nothing Santorum says on this topic is even mildly surprising. The junior senator from Pennsylvania is entirely a creature of the GOP’s Robertson/Falwell faction. His recent initiatives include an attempt to promote “creationism” in the No Child Left Behind education bill (as recounted here and here).

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Santorum’s endorsement of state authority to enforce a Christian moral code reeks of Christian Reconstructionism, the extremist ideology that has influenced all too many right-wing Republicans. Today, “conservatives” who disdain the constitutional separation of church and state represent the single most important electoral constituency of the Bush White House. That’s why Karl Rove spends so much energy and capital courting them, and why he told the Family Research Council that this administration is emphatically on their side regarding gay rights. “We’ve got a culture in our country, particularly a culture that’s applauded in this town, that says if it feels good, do it — and better yet, embody it into law,” Rove assured the FRC leadership at a dinner last year. “And [the president] doesn’t agree with it.” That may be one reason why gay-friendly conservatives like Mary Matalin have been exiled from this administration.

Still, it’s laudable for conservative gays to try to uphold basic liberties in the Republican Party, where a libertarian reform movement is badly needed. I wish them the best of luck. But neither they nor we should nurture any illusions about their prospects for success. Santorum’s statements should remind us all that the dominant figures in that party regard gays as political scapegoats rather than as potential supporters and private citizens worthy of respect.
[9:13 a.m. PDT, April 23, 2003]

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