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Rick Santorum has violated Jennifer Rubin's First Law of Politics: Don't have principles

Revenge of the Snobs

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 By Daren Jonescu  Saturday, February 18, 2012

Since Rick Santorum began to look like a viable option for those Republican voters too rational to follow the Party brass down the moderate sinkhole yet again, certain prominent Establishment voices have made it their personal mission to undermine him at all costs. And by “at all costs,” I mean they are willing to pony up their credibility, their claims to basic logical skills, and their hard-earned pretense of representing the perspective of actual Republican voters, all in the name of doing something—anything—to stop the anti-Romney forces right now.

No one has been further out in front in this regard than the Washington Post’s “Right Turn” blogger, Jennifer Rubin. She has been on an impressive spree, sometimes churning out several posts a day in her effort to portray Santorum as a misogynistic crackpot who could not possibly defeat Barack Obama once people find out what a backwater weirdo he is.

By way of an example of Rubin’s methods, and of what the Republican Establishment really thinks of conservatives, I suggest looking at just one of her recent posts. I cannot say it is her most recent—by the time you read this, she will undoubtedly have produced twenty more on the same topic—but it is representative.

The title of this February 15th article is, “Santorum: Birth control ‘harmful to women.’” In it, she discusses an interview from 2006. Santorum is asked whether birth control would fall under the concept of “freedom without responsibility,” which he has criticized. His answer:

“I vote, and have supported, birth control, because it is not the taking of a human life; but, you know, I’m not a believer in birth control—artificial birth control. Again, I think it goes down the line of being able to do whatever you want to do, without having the responsibility that comes with that. And… from a personal point of view—from a governmental point of view, I support Title 10, I guess it is, and have voted for contraception—I don’t think it works, I think it’s harmful to women, I think it’s harmful to our society, to have a society that says sex outside of marriage is something that should be encouraged or tolerated, particularly among the young. And we’ve seen very, very harmful long-term consequences to our society. So birth control, to me, enables that, and I don’t think it’s a helpful thing for our country.”

His point seems fairly straightforward. Not so, apparently, to Jennifer Rubin.

“For starters,” she responds, “does he realize that married women (men too!) use birth control?” Funnily enough, it hadn’t occurred to me to ask that question. I guess that’s why Jennifer Rubin writes for the Washington Post, and I don’t: she has the journalist’s nose for the obvious—that is, the upwardly-tilted nose that assumes only a journalist can see the obvious, and therefore that asking a meaningless rhetorical question constitutes hard-hitting analysis.

Rubin continues: “The impression that Santorum finds the prevalent practice of birth control ‘harmful to women’ is, frankly, mind-numbing. If he meant to focus on teen sexual promiscuity, he surely could have, and thereby might have sounded less out of touch.”

First of all, I had gathered that Santorum actually did mean to focus on teen sexual promiscuity, as this was the only way I could make sense of his phrase “particularly among the young.” (Was he speaking too quickly for Ms. Rubin, was she just writing too quickly to wait for the interview clip to finish, or is there some subtler meaning behind Santorum’s reference to “the young” that my primitive radar isn’t picking up on?)

But let’s look more closely at Rubin’s initial criticism, as it carries an implied meaning far more interesting than her explicit misrepresentation of Santorum’s point. Her main reproach against Santorum’s claim that birth control is harmful to women comes in two key phrases: “the prevalent practice,” and “out of touch.” His view, she is saying, is “mind-numbing” because it expresses disapproval of a prevalent practice, which makes him sound out of touch.

Is that clear enough for you? The cardinal virtues of a presidential candidate apparently include expressing approval of all prevalent social practices, and never saying anything that might make one appear out of touch with the cultural status quo. By suggesting that Western culture has developed some moral problems, and that modern sexual practices have fostered some of those problems, Rick Santorum has violated Rubin’s First Law of Politics: Don’t have principles, unless they happen to coincide with general attitudes of the moment. Let’s call this “The I-wouldn’t-have-supported-Abraham-Lincoln Rule.”

And it gets better. From the opening shot of accusing Santorum of being scandalously un-cool, Ms. Rubin moves on to the bazooka blast of all good smear campaigns: The Hidden Agenda Argument.

“Now, he qualifies his religious views by saying he doesn’t vote against contraception ‘because it’s not the taking of a human life’ (in other contexts he has emphasized that as a legal matter he has no problem with contraception). But how does that square with his professed belief that a candidate’s values are essential to understanding and predicting his behavior? Perhaps that’s an abortion-only rule.”

Here we arrive at the basic logic point I mentioned at the outset of this piece. After clearly restating Santorum’s oft-repeated claim (supported by his voting record) that his objection to contraception is a moral belief which does not determine his public policy position, Rubin attempts to make this a consistency problem for Santorum, alleging that his position on the legality of birth control cannot be “squared” with his claim that a candidate’s “values” are predictors of behavior.

Let’s follow Rubin’s reasoning here, if possible. Imagine a politician—let’s call him Mitt Romney—who believes that horror movies of the “slasher” variety, which depict bikini-clad girls being chased around and hacked to death by crazed men in hockey masks, have a bad moral or psychological influence on young boys. Does it follow from this opinion that Mr. Romney would support outlawing such movies, imprisoning those who make them, or issuing fines to people who possess them? If not, then does this mean Mr. Romney’s “values” should have no role in our judgment of him, or our expectations of him? On the contrary, might we not find particularly attractive the fact that he does not let his personal disapproval of something affect his basic respect for individual rights?

In Santorum’s case, why is Rubin limiting her conception of his “values” to his personal religious beliefs about contraception? Might one not include his belief in the inviolability of individual liberty, on full display here, among his “values”? Indeed, might one not regard the fact that Santorum has been consistent in supporting the freedom to use contraception, even though he himself disapproves of the practice, as evidence of the steadfastness of his moral principles? He believes, as any constitutional conservative believes, that the law ought to protect individual rights whenever possible, even though some people may use that constitutionally protected freedom to do things that he does not like. That he sticks to that position even when it runs up against very deeply held religious views is indeed indicative of his principles, and might well be interpreted favorably as a predictor of his behavior as President.

As for the final jab in Rubin’s “consistency” argument—“Perhaps that’s an abortion-only rule”— I can only assume that, once again, Ms. Rubin’s typing skills have gotten ahead of her. Santorum explicitly states the difference between abortion and birth control (as if it needs to be stated) in the interview Rubin is addressing, when he says that he votes in favor of birth control “because it’s not the taking of a human life.” Is there anything complicated about this? Again, it seems perfectly consistent with his general defense of constitutionally protected liberties.

And in general, does anyone other than Rubin really think that saying a candidate’s character is important means that the candidate must vote for legislation outlawing every behavior he dislikes? Oh, wait a minute! I stand corrected—millions of people actually do believe that it makes sense to pass legislation outlawing every behavior they dislike. We call them “liberals” these days. (Funny, though, that the Post’s “conservative” blogger reasons that way, isn’t it?)

But Ms. Rubin saves the best for last.

“In any event,” she concludes, “this sort of thing undermines Santorum’s electability argument.” When she says “this sort of thing,” she is presumably referring to his statement that the culture is in a bad way, in part due to degraded sexual mores. Here we have the gist of her argument: The best candidate should have no discernible moral view, or at least not one discernibly different from that of the most popular entertainers of the moment.

And exactly how does having such a moral view undermine one’s “electability”? Finally, Rubin gets to the nub of it:

“This is how, in part, he lost Pennsylvania—by appearing extreme and schoolmarmish, too far to the right of average voters in a purple state. If he is the nominee in 2012, he might get some blue-collar fellows, but what about those women in Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc.? And what about more secularized suburban communities? Fuggedaboutit.”

I’ve often racked my brain in search of the simplest, clearest definition of the word “snob.” Today, by Jove, I think I’ve got it. A snob is a person whose opinions are all stale bromides, but who lives in the myopic certitude that anyone who does not share those bromides is of a lower class. Read the preceding paragraph again, if you wish to see my definition demonstrated.

Santorum is unelectable because he “appears” (read “is”) “extreme and schoolmarmish.” Questioning the cultural status quo is “extreme.” Raising uncomfortable questions about public morals is “schoolmarmish.” (“Why did the Athenians condemn Socrates?” students sometimes ask.) How can someone with such views possibly win over “average voters in a purple state”? (Is there an average voter in a purple state? Is a purple state made up of purple voters?)

As Rubin points out, such an “out of touch,” “schoolmarmish” extremist “might get some blue-collar fellows.” In other words, those dumb worker-bee types, the knuckle-draggers who all think women should be barefoot and pregnant, might go for Santorum. “ut what about those women in Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc.?” Those poor, long-suffering women whose husbands are out with Santorum flushing birth control pills—they (all of them, presumably) are grateful to have a champion in Ms. Rubin.

“And,” she continues, “what about more secularized suburban communities? Fuggedaboutit.” Bad enough, she is saying, that the barefoot and pregnant should be saddled with Santorum-supporting men. But what about her own class, the educated people, the white-collar types with decent cars and respectable homes, who have long since been emancipated from all that religious extremist moralizing? Should they really have to put up with this nerdy Christian schoolmarm preaching to them about their children’s morals? Their children are just fine as they are, thank you—wherever they are, and whomever they are with, and whatever they are doing with him/her/them. Anyway, lay off—I already have a mother!

In sum, in case you hadn’t guessed, the snobs are with Romney. In truth, even he is less than ideal, due to his being famously non-“secularized.” The ideal Establishment Snob candidate can easily be discovered by reading Ms. Rubin’s ongoing assault on Santorum:

He must be “in touch” with popular morality. He must not be to the right of purple voters, whoever they are. He need not be appealing to blue-collar pick-up truck men with their Bibles and their guns; oppressed blue-collar women are better, and of course we know that all such women hate Christian morality, and are hip to the sexually-liberated radical feminism that Ms. Rubin and George Stephanopoulos doubt exists (when they are criticizing conservatives), as though the very term “radical feminist” were Rush Limbaugh’s creation, rather than the self-description of, well, radical feminists. (Look it up, “womyn” and gentlemen.)

In short, “electable” is a euphemism for “one of us.” And who is “us”? The educated white-collar people, the secular suburbanites—that is, those wised-up relativists for whom fretting about morality and the culture is just so unsophisticated.

It is obvious, then, that the ideal Republican Establishment candidate is—Barack Obama

It is obvious, then, that the ideal Republican Establishment candidate is—Barack Obama. Okay, fine, the other side has Obama, so the Republican snobs must choose their closest approximation to the ideal. This is how they define conservatism—settling for less than the Democratic ideal. (If you think I am just exaggerating to make a point, spend a few minutes searching the 2008 pre-election writings of David Brooks, Peggy Noonan, and so on. They were all suffering from “Ideal Envy.”) Thus, the Establishment has chosen the northeast liberal-state governor who praised Ted Kennedy (the same year Santorum gave the interview Ms. Rubin cites), described himself as a progressive, supports carbon emissions caps, shows no interest whatsoever in all that old-fashioned Constitution stuff, and proudly defends the state-wide model for Obamacare that he signed into law.

As a sequel to the Tea Party’s grand victory in 2010, this year’s Republican campaign might be dubbed “Revenge of the Snobs.”

Incidentally, pardon my lack of sophistication, but is there anyone on the planet who doesn’t think today’s cheap, effective artificial birth control has affected public morality? Is it priggish to suggest that at least some of that influence has been negative? That it has damaged the modern family, by helping to eliminate one of the main traditional incentives to marriage? That it has helped to promote intemperance and a general lack of restraint and rational will, in favor of immediate gratification?

Or is Lady Gaga really just today’s version of Ella Fitzgerald, and should we “schoolmarms” just stop being so “out of touch”?

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Daren Jonescu has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He currently teaches English language and philosophy at Changwon National University in South Korea. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).