The right wing's holy warrior

Nicole Colson documents the appalling beliefs of the darling of the Christian Right.

Rick Santorum speaking to the Republican Leadership Conference (Gage Skidmore)Rick Santorum speaking to the Republican Leadership Conference (Gage Skidmore)

THE SPOTLIGHT has lurched again in the Republican presidential primaries, but it's still shining on a right-wing fanatic. It's just a different name this week.

After an unexpected sweep in three contests held last week, Rick Santorum was enjoying media attention as the latest really-really-conservative alternative to the really-conservative frontrunner Mitt Romney.

As usual, the establishment press obsessed about the impact of the poorly attended votes and caucuses on the Republican race and the upcoming general election. That apparently left little to no time to dwell on less important matters--such as the fact that Santorum has compared gay sex to bestiality, said that rape creates "the gift of human life," and claimed that Barack Obama has set the U.S. on the path toward executing religious people with the guillotine.

Such is the state of American politics that an unhinged zealot like Santorum is considered a serious candidate for the presidential nomination of the first party of U.S. capitalism. And the Democrats—while they will complain nonstop about the bigotry of Republicans like Santorum from now until the November election—have given ground to the GOP right, again and again.

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FOR A time last year, it seemed like Santorum would be a punch line in Election 2012, best known because of his notorious "Google problem"--the result of a campaign by readers of sex columnist Dan Savage several years ago. (Visit "Spreading Santorum" if you don't know the definition yet).

Then Santorum--surging from behind, so to speak--managed a virtual tie for first place with Romney in the Iowa caucuses (after a recount, Santorum was actually declared the winner).

Santorum was overshadowed the rest of the month by Romney's victory in New Hampshire, then Newt Gingrich's resounding win in South Carolina, and finally Romney's equally strong victories in Florida and Nevada. That was supposed to seal the deal for the "inevitable" Republican nominee.

Then on February 7, Santorum swept caucuses in Minnesota and Colorado--two states Romney had won in 2008--and a nonbinding primary in Missouri.

What those three contests had in common with Iowa is that voter turnout was low--which means the hard-core right-wing base of the party that thinks Romney is "too much of a liberal" could have an outsized impact.

Of course, Romney isn't liberal at all--he's reactionary through and through, as he's tried in every possible way to prove over the past weeks and months. But it is true that the hard-core right of the Republicans have one of their own in Santorum.

The former senator from Pennsylvania is--no surprise, of course--virulently anti-gay. In an interview with the Associated Press in 2003, Santorum, a devout Catholic, declared that the abuse of children by Catholic priests was, in effect, the result of gay men entering the priesthood: "In this case, what we're talking about, basically, is priests who were having sexual relations with post-pubescent men. We're not talking about priests with 3-year-olds or 5-year-olds. We're talking about a basic homosexual relationship."

In the same interview, Santorum referred to homosexual sex as "deviant." Not only does he not think gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry or adopt children, he believes that consenting gay adults don't have a legal right to have sex in the privacy of their own homes--and that states should be able to outlaw non-procreative sex acts.

Such sex acts, he declared, "undermine the basic tenets of our society and the family. And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery."

The interview then descended into surreal territory as Santorum appeared to be fixated on what he considers the slippery slope of deviancy and the moral threat that gay sex poses to America's families:

Santorum: Every society in the history of man has upheld the institution of marriage as a bond between a man and a woman. Why? Because society is based on one thing: that society is based on the future of the society. And that's what? Children. Monogamous relationships. In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality. That's not to pick on homosexuality. It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality--

Reporter: I'm sorry, I didn't think I was going to talk about "man on dog" with a United States senator, it's sort of freaking me out.

Santorum: And that's sort of where we are in today's world, unfortunately. The idea is that the state doesn't have rights to limit individuals' wants and passions. I disagree with that. I think we absolutely have rights because there are consequences to letting people live out whatever wants or passions they desire. And we're seeing it in our society.

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DON'T WORRY, women. Santorum doesn't think you should have the right to control your bodies either. He opposes abortion even in cases of rape and incest, and told Meet the Press in June that not only should abortion be banned, but that doctors who provide abortions to rape or incest victims "should be criminally charged for doing so."

And if a woman becomes pregnant as the result of a rape? According to Santorum, she should look on the bright side. In an interview with Piers Morgan last month, Santorum stated that were one of his daughters to be raped and become pregnant, "I believe and I think that the right approach is to accept this horribly created, in the sense of rape, but nevertheless, in a very broken way, a gift of human life, and accept what God is giving to you."

Santorum is also against birth control--and has said that states should be able to outlaw it.

Were he to become president, Santorum has pledged to cut off all federal funding for contraception. In October, Santorum told editor Shane Vander Hart: "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 not okay. It's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be."

Birth control, Santorum told the Conservative Political Action Conference last week, shouldn't even be covered by health insurance at all, given that it only "costs a few dollars."

As ThinkProgress pointed out, "In reality, oral contraceptives or 'The Pill' range between $35 and $250 for the initial provider visit, and the cost of a monthly supply of pills ranges between $15 and $50 a month, which amounts to between $180 and $600 a year depending on woman's medical coverage...Other forms of birth control are far more expensive."

Santorum also ignores that fact that, according to the Guttmacher Institute, funding from Medicaid, Title X and other government services providing birth control for low-income women is a lifeline.

In 2006, one in four women who obtained contraceptive services in the United States in 2006--including 50 percent of poor women who did so--received care at publicly funded family planning centers. In that year alone, publicly funded family planning services helped women avoid 1.94 million unintended pregnancies, which would likely have resulted in about 860,000 unintended births and 810,000 abortions.

Santorum seems to positively yearn for the "good old days" of back alley abortions. At a recent campaign stop in Missouri, Santorum seemed sad as he told the crowd, "Look at what's happened in...our tolerance of abortion. Fifty years ago...60 years ago, people who did abortions were, you know, in the shadows, [they] were people who people who were considered really bad doctors. Now, abortion is something that is just accepted."

Given that women seeking access to an abortion are often forced to run a gauntlet of Santorum-like zealots, and that doctors and clinic workers are routinely harassed, assaulted and even put in fear for their lives, it's hard to imagine how Santorum could claim abortion is "just accepted."

Good thing us women can have babies to keep us busy--it'll help keep our minds off frivolous things like fighting for equal rights. According to Santorum, women in combat would be too distracting to men. "When you have men and women together in combat, I think men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way," Santorum told the Today Show's Ann Curry. "I think it's something that's natural that's very much in our culture to be protective."

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LIKE MANY Religious Right hypocrites, Santorum is quick to judge others, while believing that the slightest criticism of his own views amounts to persecution.

Santorum claims that there's a "war" on religion in the U.S. But he took his claims a step further recently when he said that Barack Obama has put America on the path to beheading religious people.

Yes, really.

In Plano, Texas, responding to the Obama administration's requirement that health insurers provide coverage for birth control, Santorum told the crowd:

They are taking faith and crushing it. Why? Why? When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what's left is the French Revolution...What's left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we're a long way from that, but if we do and follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road.

Santorum's anti-woman and anti-gay stances go along with conventional Republican attitudes toward the free market (very good) and "big government" (very bad). He even went so far as to introduce legislation in 2005 that would have prevented the National Weather Service from publishing weather data free for the public if there were private-sector entities providing the same service for a charge.

And of course, Santorum--whose concern for the health and welfare of "unborn children" knows no bounds--is for limiting welfare and other social programs, and is wholeheartedly against government-funded health care.

Santorum is a hardline supporter of Israel and the "war on terror." He has repeatedly talked about so-called "jihadism" and "Islamic fascism," declaring in a 2006 editorial that "the fight against Islamic fascism is the great test of our generation."

Santorum was one of just two senators to vote against the confirmation of Robert Gates as defense secretary during the George W. Bush administration--claiming that Gates was too soft on "radical Islam" because he advocated talks with Iran and Syria.

More recently, Santorum has tried to score points with the Republican base by advocating a war on Iran--claiming that Barack Obama turned his back on Israel by allowing Iran to seek a nuclear weapon. "We're throwing Israel under the bus because we know we're going to be dependent upon OPEC," Santorum told a crowd in Oklahoma City. "We're going to say, 'Oh, Iran, we don't want you to get a nuclear weapon--wink, wink, nod, nod--go ahead, just give us your oil.' Folks, the president of the United States is selling the economic security of the United States down the river right now."

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IT'S ALL enough to ask: what planet is Rick Santorum living on? But probably more to the point: How on earth could he possibly be considered a serious candidate for president?

At one point in time, Santorum's views were considered extreme even for the Republicans. But thanks to the strangely distorted political and media echo chambers, and in the wake of the rise of the Tea Party movement, such right-wing ideals are a kind of litmus test for a significant section of the Republican electorate.

That's why Mitt Romney has continued pandering to the hardcore right wing throughout his campaign. And it's why Neanderthals like Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul continue to "surprise the pundits" by doing well as the "true conservative" alternative to Romney.

Santorum's reactionary politics are considered "mainstream" for the Republicans. And thanks to the concessions and retreats of the Democratic Party, plenty of those ideas have a grounding in the political mainstream as a whole.

The Obama administration provided a perfect example of the problem last week when it capitulated to the Religious Right on the issue of mandatory health insurance coverage for birth control--rather than make a principled argument in favor.

Yes, Santorum's position on contraception is a despicable attack on any idea that women should have the right to control their own bodies. But the reason religious organizations will be able to deny their employees health coverage for birth control is because of the spineless Democratic Party.

Despite his surprise wins, Santorum has very little chance of getting the Republican nomination. Romney continues to have the support of much of the party establishment, and he has a massive campaign war chest to use in the much bigger primary elections coming up in the next weeks and months.

But in the meantime, the surge of Santorum will be used by conservatives to drag the rhetoric of the 2012 campaign further to the right.