The Best Man?

Published: February 29, 2012

By Jim Lichtman
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I can’t figure out if Republican Rick Santorum is running for president or Pope.

“One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is I think the dangers of contraception in this country… It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” (Oct. 2011)

In Ohio, Santorum said that the “president’s agenda” [is] “not about you… It’s not about your quality of life. It’s not about your job… It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology… not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology, but no less a theology.” (Feb. 2012)

On ABC’s This Week, Santorum said that listening to President Kennedy’s 1960 speech on faith made him want to “throw up.”

“That makes me throw up and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can’t come to the public square and argue against it, but now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square… I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” (Feb. 26, 2012)

Much has already been written and discussed about this, but I felt compelled to add my own two-cents for the simple reason that I seriously question whether Mr. Santorum actually read the entire speech. If he read the entire speech, I question his understanding of plain English. If he did not read the entire speech, then I question his ability to make fair and objective decisions. Either way, I would not consider him a viable candidate for president.

These are the words Santorum is referring to from Kennedy’s speech: “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…”

Had he read the speech from the beginning, he would have found this:

“While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that we have far more critical issues to face in the 1960 election: the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers 90 miles off the coast of Florida; the humiliating treatment of our president and vice president by those who no longer respect our power; the hungry children I saw in West Virginia; the old people who cannot pay their doctor bills; the families forced to give up their farms; an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space.

“These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues — for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barriers.

“But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again not what kind of church I believe in — for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.

“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril…”

Sadly, Kennedy’s words remain as relevant as ever.

According to a Pew Research poll (Jan. 23, 2012), the top ten issues Americans care about most are: the Economy, Jobs, Terrorism, the Budget Deficit, Social Security, Education, Medicare, Tax Fairness, Healthcare costs, and Energy.

These, Mr. Santorum, are the real issues that Americans want a candidate to address. These are the issues which should decide the campaign. They are not religious issues.

Now, I understand that it’s important for candidates to draw a distinction between themselves and their rivals, but do they have to draw a distinction between themselves and common sense?

Mr. Santorum sincerely believes in his faith and I believe that’s one important consideration for president. However, while faith can inform opinion, one man’s religious faith should not dictate which policies to support or suppress; not in a country that was founded on religious freedom as well as the freedom not to believe at all.

“I believe in an America,” Kennedy said in that speech, “where religious intolerance will someday end; where all men and all churches are treated as equal; where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice; where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind; and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.”

“The American ideal of brotherhood” – it’s time for both sides to embrace that ideal. It’s time for both sides to focus on what unites us rather than give in to opinions that divide us.



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