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February 21, 2012

Santorum's Idolatrous View of the Past

I know, I know, ya'll are tired of the Santorum pile-on and Ace already wrote about the Satan remarks. I'm not so bothered by the idea that Satan works evil in the world or that a GOP candidate for president (or, as Santorum was when he made the remark, merely a failed politician) would say it out loud.

Rather, Santorum's Satan remarks are more disturbing because they reveal his counter-factural, counter-historical, and entirely fictitious belief that America had a great and "pre-eminent" past that has slowly been eroded over the past 200 years. Here's Santorum:

If you were Satan, who would you attack, in this day and age? There is no one else to go after, other than the United States. And that’s been the case for now almost 200 years, once America’s pre-eminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers. He didn’t have much success in the early days—our foundation was very strong, in fact, is very strong. But over time, that great, acidic quality of time corrodes away even the strongest foundations. And Satan has done so, by attacking the great institutions of America, using those great vices of pride, vanity and sensuality…

Forbes' Josh Barro notes the real problem:

Let’s think back to what America was like almost 200 years ago. Slavery was legal, indeed enshrined in our Constitution by our Founding Fathers. The federal government was forcibly removing American Indians from their lands, leading to thousands of deaths. Women couldn’t vote and were limited in their rights to own property. And yet, Santorum sees Satan wielding more influence and having more success in America today than he did then.

These were and---to the extent similar race- and gender-based ills continue trouble us today in subtler forms---are great evils. Santorum's rosy view of the past is, quite simply, insupportable, even on the terms he proposes: that Satan's influence is greater today, having "corroded" the "strong foundation" of the early United States.

However much he dislikes Roe v. Wade, Santorum can't possibly believe that disfranchisement of women and the prohibition on female property ownership were a vastly lesser evil. But that doesn't stop this ahistorical claim, quite popular among the usual suspects, that the country is going to hell in a handbasket and it would all be better if only we could return to the "good old days."

As Barro notes, the good old days weren't all that good unless you were white, male, and a property-owner:

By contending that America has fallen from grace relative to 200 years ago, Santorum shows major blind spot for injustices committed against out-groups.

The exit polls for Santorum's 2000 victory over Democratic challenger Ron Klink are instructive. Santorum got 57 percent of men. He got only 48 percent of women. That's a helluva gender gap.

h/t to @guypbenson

Alright, alright: Maybe Roe isn't the best comparison, since abortion is murder. Can you imagine those debate questions, though? "Mr. Santorum, do you believe that America was better with slavery than with abortion?" It'll be a slaughter.

Worse, put the question to pro-life women voters: "Would you give up the right to own property and the right to vote, if in exchange abortion were unlawful?" Anybody want to guess how that'd shake out?

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posted by Gabriel Malor at 06:16 PM

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