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The Santorum Brief: Conservatism and Extremist Comedy
by Dr. Binoy Kampmark
2012-03-01 07:43:39
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God bless Rick Santorum.  For no one else will be – certainly not Dan Savage, who proposed a definition for the presidential contender’s last name: ‘lubricant mixed with faecal matter, as a byproduct of anal sex’.  This prompted commentators to call it Santorum’s ‘Google problem’, an instance of search engine blues and brilliant marketing.  Peter LaBarbera, president of Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, was particularly troubled, taking aim at Savage’s online meddling.  In a press statement on the AFTH website, he asked plaintively to, ‘Stop joking about it, and do not act as if Rich Santorum’s “Google problem” just appeared out of nowhere’.

While seeking the appeal of social conservatives is one thing, the way Santorum is doing it has a certain comedic air about it.  Naughty President Obama was being a ‘snob’ in expecting all Americans to go to college in a nation that lags behind Georgia and Cuba as the most literate countries on God’s good earth.  College, for Santorum, is an insidious place, a sinister machinery that form ‘indoctrination mills’ for the soft minded and vulnerable.  This is a peculiar obsession to begin with, because it assumes that there is an indoctrination platform to play with. 

As for conservatives, life on campuses across the US is misery.  Life is tough when you are an unintentional comedian of the Right.  ‘I went through it at Penn State.  You talk to most kids who go to college who are conservatives, and you are singled out, you are ridiculed’ (New York Times, The Caucus, Feb 26).  Santorum, the walking and speaking wounded, the ridiculed, the punished.  In the godless wilderness of Penn State, vicious and cruel, he spoke of being ‘docked for my conservative views’, refusing to elaborate on that teaser.  If you showed an inkling that you are were a person of faith, corrosive secularism would creep in. Chances are that, if you were a person of faith going into the US university machinery, you would come out less convinced by God. 

If it is not university that is making Santorum hot and bothered, it is the relations between church and state.  President John F. Kennedy was evidently not Santorum’s top political theorist on the subject.  Santorum has made an effort suggesting that Kennedy was distinctly off in suggesting that church and state observe a wall of separation.  As he observed on Sunday, ‘I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute.’  He also suggested that he felt somewhat off by the notion ‘that people of faith have no role in the public square’, making him ‘want to throw up’.

As with so many views articulated by extremists, an argument, placed in context, is not quite so strange an animal.  Political correctness, as Santorum puts it, is problematic but this has nothing to do with either right or left wing engagements.  It is its own ideology, emptied of reference points and analysis. When one is taught not to think, to parrot, ape and mimic, whichever side of the political divide, the time has come to leave a university or any institution that professes the same. 

Robert Hughes’s Culture of Complaint, a scathing review of American cultural anaemia fingered polarization as the crippling feature, an addiction, ‘the crack of politics – a short, intense rush that the system craves again and again, until it begins to collapse.’ Political correctness might well be part of this mix, but so is Santorum, its flipside, a demonology against everything he regards as ‘progressive’, those people like President Obama who believe in ‘some phoney theology’ (Huffington Post, Feb 26).

Of the comedic troupe of contenders that make up the Republican race for the presidential nomination, he must surely stand out as the most extreme of them all, a caricature extremist, a cartoon clown.   But this is comforting in a sense.  We know that he hates virtually everything and everyone – from blacks to homosexuals, from welfare recipients to the secular lobby.  (The Palestinians, in Santorumland, don’t exist – at least in the West Bank.)  With such well nurtured hates, he will be entirely manageable by his opponents, the joker who extracts a few laughs before being boxed again.  The danger, however, lies in how those jokes are modified for the broader public.


Binoy Kampmark
was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge.  He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

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