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Requiem for a Neocon: The Tragedy of Rick Santorum

by Thomas J. Herron

 

 

As is its habit, from the years before the downsizing mania hit its succession of owners, Philadelphia’s newspaper of record has a big spread on the candidates for the major offices on the weekend before the general election.  In 2006 The Philadelphia Inquirer continued the tradition even as they transitioned from the Knight-Ridder chain to local ownership and a continuing firing of editorial staff.  So as a public service, to help the voters get to know the major candidates for Pennsylvania’s governor and senator as well as the senate candidates across the Delaware River in New Jersey, the Inquirer asked them a whole series of questions to help people get to know the candidates, not just as proponents of issues but as human beings. This means that the Democrats and Republicans at the top of the ticket in New Jersey and Pennsylvania have to answer deep questions such as “what kind of music do you like?”  For the record Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum likes country and his challenger, Bob Casey Jr., likes Top 40 while across the Delaware both Tom Kean, Jr. and Bob Menendez both like rock & roll. Senator Menendez added that, since he was from Hoboken, he loves the music of their most famous native son, Old Blue Eyes himself.  Be that as it may, that for me wasn’t the most revealing question.

 

The Inquirer also asked all the candidates what magazines they read, which was a little more informative. Pennsylvania Governor Rendell said he gets so many briefings he has no time for magazines, while Tommy Kean reads The Economist, and both Bobs, Menendez and Casey, like Time and Newsweek. But for me the most revealing piece of information was of a mind formed in the Catholic version of the neocon ideology and that it belongs to Mr. Santorum, who stated that he read First Things, Crisis, The Weekly Standard, and National Review.  For someone who had been writing in these pages that there was a neoconservative movement and that there were noted Catholics, like Senator Santorum, who were members of it, here was proof positive that a leading Republican Catholic leader in the Senate had his mind formed from neocon sources.  However, I have given up trying to convince a whole group of young Catholic bloggers who speak in words that echo Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, in his attempt at putting the bureaucratic language of the Pentagon into the form of haiku, spoke of “unknown unknowns.”  The Secretary was actually much more poetic saying,

 

“As we know,

There are known knowns.

There are things we know we know.

We also know

There are known unknowns.

That is to say

We know there are some things

We do not know.

But there are also unknown unknowns,

The ones we don’t know

We don’t know.”

 

In context I believe Mr. Rumsfeld was speaking about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  Be that as it may, for many of the Catholic bloggers hold that anyone like the writers in Culture Wars who speak of a neocon penetration of conservative Catholicism are just blowing smoke and that no such movement exists, as we can’t define what is known and unknown about it.  Speaking of Secretary Rumsfeld at the moment the Inquirer were asking the candidates questions about their reading habits and music tastes President Bush was stating that Donald Rumsfeld would hold his job as Defense Secretary until the end of his term in 2009; which pulled the rug out of the campaign of the Republican senate candidate in New Jersey, Tom Kean, Jr., who called for Rumsfeld’s replacement over the failures of the Iraqi campaign.  President Bush “stayed the course” on Mr. Rumsfeld until the day after the mid-term election when he chose to “cut and run” to another Defense Secretary, when it was too late to help Republican candidates like Tom Kean, Jr., who had, as a group, gone down to defeat.

 

But the defeat of Pennsylvania’s own Senator Rick Santorum by the state Auditor General, Robert Casey, Jr. was more massive than the others.  It was also more shocking, because Santorum was the third most powerful Republican in the U.S. Senate.  It also involved the defeat of one of the most stalwart defenders of President George W. Bush, American military intervention in the Middle East, free market economics, and all the other themes that have come to exemplify what is known as the contemporary American conservative movement.  In the defeat of Rick Santorum for a third term in the U.S. Senate, the voters of Pennsylvania were saying that they disagreed with the political philosophy that their senator gleaned from National Review, The Weekly Standard, and The Wall Street Journal.  Since exit polls indicated that the majority of Pennsylvania’s Catholic voters voted for Casey over Santorum, it might be inferred that this group of voters rejected the marriage of orthodox Catholicism and the neocon ideology that Rick Santorum found in the pages of First Things and Crisis.  Nothing in this article should be inferred to indicate that Robert Casey, Jr. is the same consistent prolife champion that his late father was, who was Pennsylvania’s governor from 1987-95.  Mr. Casey, being a contemporary Democrat has also proved himself beholden to the teachers’ unions, which are a major factor in that party and publicly opposed aid to religious schools, like the ones he attended and sends his children to.  However, Mr. Casey and his Democratic handlers, who gave him room to announce that he opposed abortion, turned the election into a referendum on Senator Santorum’s support for the president and the Iraq war, and this was enough in November, 2006 to cause a 59-41 percent blow-out for the Democratic candidate.

 

The demise of the American conservative ideology has been announced at regular intervals ever since at least 1964, when true believer Barry Goldwater carried only six states in that year’s presidential election.  It was expected again after Richard Nixon resigned in disgrace a decade later, and again after Bill Clinton’s first victory in 1992.  More recently much discussion in both the print and electronic media has been undertaken analyzing the 2004 presidential election when George W. Bush surprised many by winning reelection. Analysis continued a year later when right-wing icon William F. Buckley, Jr. celebrated his 80th birthday at a White House ceremony that also marked the 50th anniversary of the magazine he founded, National Review.  The confusion is always pronounced because of the assumption that the Republicans are a conservative party and that a defeat for them in an election is a defeat for the movement.

 

On the margins there are always discussions about how conservative Republicans like Nixon, the Bushes and their core advisors really are, and whether Leon Trotsky or Robert Taft would be more comfortable with George W. Bush’s second inaugural address when he spoke of freedom and democracy being a “fire in the minds of men” for which the United States had the responsibility to stoke everywhere in the world.  Of course, Comrade Trotsky being from Russia, would immediately recognize the quote as coming from Dostoevsky, which is more than can be said for George W. Bush.   If indeed the contemporary American conservative movement that was founded in the early ‘50s by Bill Buckley and Russell Kirk has in fact died, the autopsy would show that it suffered from head wounds.  Contemporary American conservatism died because it ran out of ideas and started taking stuff from the intellectual descendants of Karl Marx and Leon Trotsky and telling the world that they reflected American values.

 

But perhaps Senator Santorum was being too modest in his pre-election interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. Senator Santorum wasn’t just a subscriber to First Things and Crisis, he was a monthly columnist for the latter, contributing his perspective from deep inside the Beltway in From the Hill.  In it Rick Santorum would give his readers his take on what a prolife member of the “family values” party was observing as the major issues of the day.  By the end of the senator’s term, the hold of the Republican Party on the “family values” label was becoming a subject for late night television comedy with the outing of Congressman Mark Foley for propositioning male pages. Foley made the trendy excuse for his behavior as an adult by attributing it to alcohol addiction and the fact that his parish priest in Florida had taken him naked into a sauna decades before.  In Mr. Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania, a representative from a safe Republican district, Don Sherwood, was in the headlines for having attempted to strangle his mistress, who then went to the press.  These issues were never covered in the senator’s From the Hill column no more than the fact that the people who had originally voted him to the House and Senate from western Pennsylvania were angry at him, the devoted Catholic family man and father of six children, whose wife gave up a career to home school them, because the Santorums made no pretense of living in Pennsylvania, maintaining a two bedroom house in the Penn Hills suburb of Pittsburgh for voting purposes, which was rented out to relatives, while they resided in a $750,000 mansion in Leesburg, Virginia, a suburb of the District of Columbia.  As some indication that he actually believed that the ends justified the means for him and his family, Senator Santorum then pressed the local Penn Hills public school district to install a T1 line into his Virginia home so his children could attend the cyber academy conducted by that district.  Karen Santorum would address prolife groups on the blessings of being a stay-at-home mom while Rick would write a book, It Takes a Family, that was interpreted as condemning working mothers, and the Santorums would not discontinue the T1 line until it became a big issue in The Pittsburgh Post Gazette.  When the votes were counted in the last election, the Pittsburgh area, the Senator’s base, showed the same 20 percentage point margin for Robert Casey.

 

There was another issue in Senator Santorum writing for Crisis magazine, namely, if he was so moral, why didn’t he cease writing for that magazine when the editor and Republican party operative, Deal Hudson, was exposed two years ago in the National Catholic Reporter, as having sexually molested (to put it mildly) a female student while he was a professor at Fordham.  Again, this champion of Catholic morality had a blind eye for questions that impacted his family and associates.  In the final days of the campaign Rick Santorum accepted campaign help from another pillar of virtue, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, a loud champion of the prochoice position in the Republican Party, whose collection of wives, mistresses, and girlfriends defies calculation.

 

But it would be argued that Santorum’s columns in Crisis were only the meditations of a Catholic public figure on the major issues of the day.  And that would be true if both of these neocon journals for Catholics had not adopted an expansive notion of infallibility in what they claimed to be the Catholic interpretation of contemporary questions.  We have only to look at the November issue of Crisis, which contains the Senator’s cry for war against Islamofascism and his equating of the president of Iran with Adolf Hitler (more on that in a moment) to examine some of the other articles it contains.  The former disgraced editor, Deal Hudson, has the second of a two-part article on how Catholics should examine issues and vote in the forthcoming election. The November issue also contains a very strange article, the cover story, by noted Catholic blogger, Mark Shea, on an issue that we have covered at length in Culture Wars, namely Is The Gospel of John Anti-Semitic?  This is a very strange article in a number of ways. To begin with, Mr. Shea has stated in his blog that his education consisted of a B.A. in English from the University of Washington and has never implied that any graduate or seminary studies in scriptural exegesis at any Catholic or Protestant institution were part of his resume.  The article contains no references to the sources for his interpretation of the Fourth Gospel, and we are left to wonder if the statements Shea makes are his own or from unnamed authors.

 

The essay in question is also very strange from a literary point of view, authored by someone who studied literature and composition in college, because it doesn’t make clear the conclusions that are obvious from Mark Shea’s interpretation of St. John’s Gospel.  We would also wonder if the current editors of Crisis were asleep when they reviewed the article and made it their lead story for November.  In his introductory piece for the November issue, Brian Saint-Paul, Crisis’ editor is too busy condemning those Catholics who judged Rod Dreher’s “soul, intellect, personal character and eternal destination” when it was proven that this favorite of Catholic bloggers had secretly some months ago become a member of an Eastern Orthodox Church but had still masqueraded as a Catholic for apparently business reasons.

 

As best I can understand Mr. Shea’s piece, he seems to say that this Gospel was addressed not to the unbelieving Jews but to Jewish Christians in Ephesus or to the followers of John the Baptist who didn’t accept Christ as the Messiah. Therefore, then and now, Jews who don’t accept Jesus as the Messiah, are exempt from the condemnation in St. John’s Gospel that their “father is the devil” as well as the one in Revelation which refers to Jews as the “synagogue of Satan.”  Only Jews (or gentiles) who believe in Christ’s claims, which Mr. Shea equates to the “cafeteria Catholics” of our times, are subject to His condemnations!  Those who don’t accept them aren’t impacted by what John the Evangelist was talking about.  Specifically the author states:

 

As the conversation continues, we discover that not all reject Him.  Some ‘believe in him.’  And this is where the plot thickens.  For notably, it is not to the Jews who reject Him, but to ‘the Jews who had believed in him’ (Jn 8:31), that Jesus addresses His next remarks, including the shocking statement, ‘You are of your father the devil and your will is to do your father’s desires’ (Jn 8:44).  In short it’s ‘interested inquirers’ – people like the unbaptized catechumens and ‘inquirers’ in the evangelist’s own community – not hostile Pharisees and ‘outsiders,’ who are told they are the children of the devil.

 

Perhaps this is why English major Mark Shea can’t be too clear on this. He and some of these other converts from Evangelicalism  (like Bill Cork, author of Anti-Semitism and the Catholic Right, who claims that the sin against the Holy Ghost for Christians is to hold a supercessionist position on the validity of the religion of Judaism) believe in a form of dual covenant theology, although they would be the first to scream when someone points this out.  But the fact remains that from this alleged “Christian” perspective, the smartest thing a Jew could do would be not to believe in Jesus’ claims, because if you don’t, you are not subject to His condemnations.   It is humorous that Shea and some of these other allegedly orthodox Catholic bloggers are constantly attacking Robert Sungenis’ academic background even though (while I make no claims about his doctorate) he does have a Master of Divinity degree from a reputable Evangelical seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, in the Philadelphia suburbs, as do some of the convert bloggers who attack him.  We may wonder if Crisis, which prides itself on its Catholic orthodoxy, is promoting dual covenant theology.  Whatever the case, it must be that writers like Mark Shea are presumed to speak infallibility on doctrinal matters, since they don’t have to provide footnotes or show any academic competence on their topic.

 

But Crisis’ companion magazine of neocon Catholic thought, First Things, is also guilty of infallible commentary on contemporary issues. In a lengthy article, that was much quoted in Catholic blogdom, their editor Joseph Bottum also managed to write an article on American Catholic culture of the past four decades that echoed without attribution many pieces that have run over the years in Culture Wars.  The title of the story in the October, 2006 issue of FT was “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano:  Catholic Culture in America.”  As I said it was interesting to note that Mr. Bottum used as his theme the enduring value of a Spanish mission in California to contrast it with the state of the contemporary American church, as E. Michael Jones had done last year in the pages of Culture Wars when describing the wedding of his son and daughter-in-law in the area.  That wasn’t the only echo of Jones’ work in Mr. Bottum’s piece. Jones had recently quoted Robert Blair Kaiser’s autobiography, Clerical Error, in a piece discussing the charges of simony leveled by opponents of Nostra Aetate against Cardinal Bea and then Father Malachi Martin, S.J. Father Martin, according to Kaiser, took money from the World Jewish Congress in exchange for lobbying the council for the declaration on the Jews.

 

Mr. Bottum has the following statement about Kaiser’s autobiography towards the end of his very long piece:  

 

Clerical Error is an odd book, its authorial self-obsession and downright weirdness making its accusations hard to believe. But as a description of that generation, it really can’t be bettered. Before his death in 1999, Martin would move to New York and become a bestselling traditionalist of ambiguous clerical standing. Kaiser would go on to publish volume after volume: each demanding ever-more-unlikely reforms, each raging against the Church for its failure to be sufficiently like Robert Blair Kaiser. If this is what Catholicism was like in those days, we are better off without it.

 

What did Mr. Bottum find so hard to believe in what what Mr. Kaiser wrote? Was it Kaiser’s description of the affair between the Irish Jesuit and the Time reporter’s first wife?  Somehow we doubt that. The thing that these neocon Catholic journals want people to ignore is the clear statements about Jewish groups lobbying at Vatican II in a book that has basically been ignored since it was published in 2003.  For the record I met Robert Blair Kaiser in October when he addressed the Philadelphia chapter of Voice of the Faithful, and while he is now an old man he is still a “spirit of Vatican II” liberal who knew Crisis founder Michael Novak and First Things’ Richard John Neuhaus when they were on the left of the spectrum both religiously and politically.  He also is aware that these magazines serve non-Christian neocon masters as their first priority.  While I may not agree with Mr. Kaiser on many issues, he is not self-obsessed, weird or hard to believe when he describes what he experienced at the Second Vatican Council.  But people who read First Things can dismiss my comments because they have another infallible teacher in Mr. Bottum.

 

So the closing thoughts I will present on Rick Santorum’s essays in Crisis have to be judged as no worse than a lot of other strange stuff in these neocon magazines for Catholics.  In the November, Pennsylvania’s junior senator took time from his busy reelection campaign to contribute one of his occasional From the Hill pieces describing the so-called Global War on Terrorism which America has been involved with for the past five years.  It was a call to the Christian soldiers who read these neocon Catholic journals to be prepared for more sacrifice and not to question what President Bush required of our nation.  Rick Santorum stated:

 

The ideology we are fighting is not terror; terrorism is only a tactic. The ideology we fight is Islamic fascism. Islamic fascists are the heirs to the Nazis and others we fought in World War II. The foot soldiers of this worldwide jihadist movement subscribe to a radical, perverted form of Islam, and they seek to dominate or destroy the United States and freedom-loving people everywhere…. Beyond Iraq and Afghanistan, they have expanded their presence to nearly every continent. They even have invaded the Americas through Iran’s ties to the Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships… This is a war of attrition, and we either fight the fascists or perish…. The president is right: This is our hour to lead by promoting the only possible antidote to radical Islam in the Middle East—democracy. As leading Middle East historian Bernard Lewis says, “We free them or they destroy us.”  We can seek political advantage to win the next election, or we can confront the reality of this hour and fight Islamic fascism. On my watch, even though I am facing a challenging reelection campaign in Pennsylvania, I am going to confront this threat. Islamic fascism threatens our civilization, and I pray we have the courage to defeat it.

 

Actually what Rick Santorum wrote in his Crisis column was just an excerpt from a very long campaign speech which he gave incessantly in the final weeks of the campaign across Pennsylvania titled “The Gathering Storm.”  Since we have been speaking of unattributed echoing among neocon Catholic authors of what has been published in Culture Wars and Fidelity, the speech, which was reprinted verbatim in the pages of the Philadelphia Inquirer and other media outlets was, bore a title which was taken from one of the volumes of Winston Churchill’s history of World War II.  Among President Bush and his Republican stalwart supporters of our invasions of the Middle East the allusions are always to Churchill and the Battle of Britain because we’re supposed to believe that the time is 1940 and we’re facing the Adolf Hitler du jour.  In fact, read in its entirely, Senator Santorum’s speech was incredible for its bloodthirstiness. It read like one of Victor Davis Hanson’s writings on steroids.

 

One thing about the devout prolife Catholic senator from Pennsylvania, there is no obfuscation in his words: the current president of Iran Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the Hitler of our time, and Islamofascist Iran intends to dominate the earth just as Nazi Germany did six decades ago, Santorum’s words recall the phrase of the late libertarian economist Murray Rothbard about the “Hitler of the Month Club.”  Anyway, we know this character Ahmadinejad is bad because he has denied at least part of the Holocaust story and was probably behind a jihadist plot to bomb the main synagogue in Prague during the recent Jewish High Holy Days.  The senator points with pride to his sponsorship of legislation pushed by prominent neocons titled the Iran Freedom and Support Act, which pushed the American government on a course to overthrow the leadership in Tehran and which that government might view as an act of war against it.

 

Turning to our own hemisphere, Senator Santorum noted that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez has entered into an alliance with Iran; he then goes on to triangulate Chavez, Ahmadinejad, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro as being in league to destroy American initiatives for economic and political liberalism in Latin America.  Rick Santorum did not include Sandinista leader of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, who apparently has, like Russia’s Vladimir Putin, shed his Marxist philosophy for nationalism and returned to the Catholic Church.  Former Comandante Ortega was more successful in his November, 2006 reelection to the presidency in Managua than was the senator from Pennsylvania in his reelection bid, despite heavy handed interference from the U.S. State Department.

 

While his stump speech doesn’t state this openly, Rick Santorum argues that nationalism, whether practiced by Iran, Venezuela, Russia or Nicaragua, makes a nation the enemy of the United States, unless it subscribes to the global economic liberalism mandated by the elites of Washington, D.C.  Any sign of intransigence in this regard means that we then have the moral duty to crush by any means necessary.  Senator Santorum believes in “free trade,” which means enmeshing the nations of the world into larger and larger trading blocs, which destroys the economies of both advanced nations like the U.S. and poor countries like Nicaragua, sending good-paying jobs to Third World countries and millions of impoverished farmers to el Norte as their traditional way of life gets destroyed in the globalization process.  Anyone who objects to this process on a nationalistic or religious basis, whether from Islamic, Catholic, or Orthodox principles is, to the devout Catholic Senator Rick Santorum, an enemy of this country and must be destroyed.

 

And that brings us to the tragedy of a good Catholic family man like Rick Santorum who did try to champion the Church’s position on life issues like late-term abortions, stem cell research, gay marriage and a host of other issues during his years in Congress.  The tragedy was not that he was defeated in the last election; the tragedy is that he didn’t understand and accept the totality of the Church’s moral teachings.  In this he allowed his conscience to be formed by non-Christian neocons and their Catholic camp followers like the founders of Crisis and First Things. Santorum accepted as infallible the prowar and procapitalist spin of a former leftist like Michael Novak when he interpreted away the clear pronouncements of two successive popes on the immorality of America’s war in the Middle East, as well as the clear prolabor thrust of Catholic social thought from the time of Rerum Novarum.

 

Jewish Critic

 

It is interesting that Senator Santorum would quote a Jewish critic of Islamic culture like Princeton’s Bernard Lewis in his From the Hill column.  In May of 2006 the Philadelphia World Affairs Council held a luncheon in Dr. Lewis’ honor, at which such notables as Vice President Cheney and Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware were present.  The Philadelphia media didn’t report if Rick Santorum was there, but he was in town a month later at Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum meeting where according to his official press release he was “honored” to be speaking with Israeli Likud politician Natan Sharansky on the topic of “Religious Freedom, Democracy, and the Middle East.”  Mr. Sharansky has become something of a hero to neocon Republicans in Washington with even President Bush stating that he had read his latest book, The Case for Democracy, which opined that the Arabs need to become “democratic” before Israel and America have to deal with them.  Natan Sharansky used to be Anatoly Sharansky, a Communist Party member who ran afoul of his party in what used to be the Soviet Union and when imprisoned launched a world-wide campaign to be allowed to immigrate to the “true homeland of every Jew.”  Once in Israel, Mr. Sharansky gravitated to the hard-right of the Israeli political spectrum, which denies the right of Palestinians to return to what was their homeland. Hence, the book on the Arabs needing to prove their devotion to democracy.  In this he is only a little more diplomatic than another Israeli political figure who immigrated from the Soviet Union, Avigidor Lieberman, who has recently been made the Israeli government’s point-man in seeking a “final solution” to what they, and Rick Santorum, believe to be the threat from potential Iranian nuclear weapons.  Mr. Lieberman does not demand that the Arabs adopt democracy—only that Israel expel all remaining Arabs from all the territory it occupies.

 

Which proves that the godly Senator Santorum had a very interesting choice of friends, especially when you include in that circle the host for the Middle East Forum, Philadelphia’s Daniel Pipes, who as we have stated earlier was morally responsible for the Danish cartoon series critical of Islam and Muhammad which caused riots in the Muslim world about a year ago.  Shortly after the Forum’s meeting in Haverford, Pennsylvania in June, 2006, the Israeli Likud government, of which Mr. Sharansky has been a member, used the kidnapping of Israeli soldiers by Lebanese Hezbollah forces as a pretext to conduct a month of invasions and aerial bombardment of the civilian infrastructure of that nation, while Republican senators like the very Catholic Rick Santorum supported every bomb that Israel dropped.  Which makes you wonder, does reading magazines like First Things and Crisis cause a danger to the Catholic faith?  We hope that Senator-elect Casey sticks with Time and Newsweek.CW

Thomas J. Herron lives in Philadelphia and is a frequent contributor to Culture Wars.

This article appeared in the January 2007 issue of Culture Wars.

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