The PJ Tatler

Satan, Double Standards and Rick Santorum

I’m on the record as not being a fan of Rick Santorum’s candidacy (or anyone else’s still in the race, and especially the incumbent’s). But lately Santorum is getting a drubbing for saying things that would be unremarkable coming out of nearly anyone else’s mouth. And in one case, he’s being ripped for saying something years before his run for president, as if the statement is part of his campaign thematics. That’s unfair.

Santorum has been ripped this week for criticizing Barack Obama’s “theology.” Robert “The Family Guy” Gibbs led the charge against that statement, and the media’s stenography pool picked it up and ran with it.

Robert Gibbs tells ABC’s “This Week” that it’s time “to get rid of this mindset in our politics that, if we disagree, we have to question character and faith.”

Gibbs says the country would be better served if presidential candidates focused instead on the economic challenges faced by the middle class.

Santorum said on Saturday that Obama’s agenda is tied to “some phony theology” not based on the Bible.

Boy, that sounds really theocratic, practically as if Santorum is enlisting in the Pope’s massed divisions.

But what if Gibbs is being dishonest about what Santorum said? Is it possible that the president’s former spokesman is taking a cheap shot at a potential Republican nominee? Here’s what the candidate actually said about Obama’s “theology.

“It doesn’t fit his pattern of trying to drive down consumption, trying to drive up your cost of transportation to accomplish his political science goal of reducing carbon dioxide,” he said.

Obama, he continued, is not motivated by “your quality of life.”

“It’s not about your job. It’s about some phony ideal, some phony theology,” Santorum said. “Oh, not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology. But no less a theology.”

Santorum was discussing the president’s environmental and economic policies, not his spiritual beliefs. Gibbs fibs. Theology as a source of our political beliefs is hardly controversial. Democrats equate Republican drives for tax cuts with the party’s “theology” all the time. But Santorum uses that word and suddenly the Holy Roman Empire is both holy and Roman and massed on the border with Gen. Rick Santorum in command? Right. Pardon me while I fail to panic.

Santorum is also getting a bad rap on the “Satan” video that’s making the rounds. In it, he says Satan (not the NHL goalie wing, whose name is pronounced “Zhatahn”) is trying to bring America down. Why the Media Research Center and Drudge are flogging a four year old video as if it’s coming from the Santorum campaign’s inner sanctum now is a question for them to answer. But context might mean something here: Santorum was addressing a faith forum at a Catholic university at the time. And, as I may have mentioned, he said it four years ago. Satan hasn’t become part of Santorum’s stump speech that I’ve seen, and I’ve seen him on the campaign trail with my own eyes more than once. Satan didn’t come up.

Further, belief in Satan or a force for evil plaguing the world and working to bring down the good isn’t exactly out of the mainstream. C.S. Lewis’ great novel, The Screwtape Letters, uses a mix of wisdom, guile and humor to put some flesh on the evil one. Every candidate in the race claims to believe in Satan. Every one of them. Even Obama, who recently mutilated scripture to back up his political case for higher taxes. If you believe America is a force for good, a belief that may or may not be shared by the current president, then you believe Satan is trying to bring America down. That’s Satan’s schtick. Perhaps the president who learned at the knee of Jeremiah Wright for 20 years should be asked his own view of America’s and Satan’s respective roles in the world.

You don’t even have to be a Christian to believe in Satan, by the way. Ask the late and unlamented Anton LaVey.

All of that said, Santorum is obviously going to have to careful about what he says in ways that Obama and even the other GOP candidates won’t have to. He’s set up as the conviction candidate and has put his beliefs up front in his campaign. That means language in his present and past statements will be read differently from the way the exact same language will be read coming from other candidates. He will be church ladied and Palinized, and in fact he is already being Palinized. It’s mostly unfair, but it’s a fact, and if Santorum has any hope of winning, he’ll have to show a focus, an agility and shrewdness that, so far, he hasn’t shown.