There You Go Again

March 29, 2011

Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum, a Republican from Pennsylvania, continues to paint himself as the anti-JFK candidate as he prepares for the 2012 presidential campaign (the picture is of him speaking last fall to the "Values Voters Summit"). Speaking to a Catholic group in Massachusetts earlier this month, Santorum blamed John F. Kennedy for the supposed secularization of American culture. In particular, Santorum attacked Kennedy's speech on religion and politics, which Kennedy gave to a group of Protestant ministers during the 1960 presidential campaign (and was an important factor in Kennedy becoming the first Catholic ever elected U.S. president). Santorum said he is "frankly appalled" by the speech and claimed JFK's support for separation of church and state in the speech "was a radical statement" that did "great damage." He added:

We're seeing how Catholic politicians, following the first Catholic president, have followed his lead, and have divorced faith not just from the public square, but from their own decision-making process. ... We need to be more engaged, and we need to be unapologetic about who we are and why we're doing it. ... America needs the truth that believers bring to the public square.
This is not the first time Santorum has taken this approach of attacking JFK's famous speech. Last September--near the fiftieth anniversary of JFK's speech--Santorum traveled to Houston to give a speech criticizing Kennedy. As I noted at the time, Santorum's arguments proves he is not only a bad politician, but also a bad historian and theologian. In my latest book (Presidential Campaign Rhetoric in an Age of Confessional Politics) document how times have dramatically changed since JFK and his speech is no longer the guiding principle (I also wrote about JFK's speech in a Houston Chronicle column last September). Thus, Santorum is fighting a 'straw man.'

J. Brent Walker, Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, had a good piece a couple of months ago critiquing Santorum and others like Sarah Palin (see more here) for inaccurately attacking Kennedy's speech. And if Santorum's attacks are not enough, one can only imagine what will happen if Roy Moore, the former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Alabama who got kicked off for breaking the law (when he refused to remove his humongous Ten Commandments monument out of the courthouse), decides to run for president. Apparently, Moore is thinking about it despite being creamed twice in Republican gubernatorial primaries in Alabama. As I argued in a Birmingham News column last year, Moore's political failures demonstrate the problems of movement politics. It seems like either ego run amok or a publicity stunt (because he has even less of a shot than Donald Trump), but if Moore decided to run, his religious-political rhetoric would make Santorum's seem fairly mild.

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