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Santorum vs. Obama: The Debate America Needs Print E-mail
By David G. Bonagura, Jr.   
Sunday, 19 February 2012

On January 19, Pope Benedict XVI described both the core of the American experiment and the turmoil of the current political moment:

At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing. In America, that consensus, as enshrined in your nation’s founding documents, was grounded in a worldview shaped not only by faith but a commitment to certain ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God. Today that consensus has eroded significantly in the face of powerful new cultural currents which are not only directly opposed to core moral teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition, but increasingly hostile to Christianity as such.

The new cultural currents hostile to Christianity, present for decades in various forms, have coalesced these last few weeks around the Oval Office, the point of origin for one of recent memory’s most heinous attacks on religious liberty in general and Christian religious practice in particular.

President Obama’s deliberate challenge to the constitutional guarantee of the free exercise of religion joins his abortion and marriage policies as his latest attempt to coerce the Judeo-Christian tradition back into its houses of worship, permanently concealed from public view, and isolated from public policy.

Jobs and economic recovery are very important, but ultimately Obama’s presidency will be defined by his use of executive power to push a sweeping social agenda contrary to the long held American consensus on the ethical principles that derive from nature and nature’s God. At stake in the 2012 election is nothing less than America’s vision of reality and the moral good.

Discussing this vision is neither a prospect that political consultants advise nor one that excites an electorate. Social issues, we are told, are divisive, indeed lead to culture war. And in the end many appeal to the relativism card – what’s true for you is not true for me – which usually seems easier than having a knockout fight with colleagues or neighbors.

But it is the social issues – what our kids learn in schools, what we allow in discourse and entertainment, how we treat one another, how we worship – that shape America, the ideals she holds, and the way we live together. With so much at stake in this sphere in the coming election, the American people need a frank discussion about what America is all about.


Rick Santorum and his daughter Bella

Of the four remaining Republican presidential candidates, Rick Santorum possesses the greatest ability to steer this discussion back to the consensus of America’s founding. In the political arena, he has fought valiantly for pro-life causes. And at home he has heroically sacrificed himself and his family so that even the most sickly and vulnerable human beings may have their God-given right to life.

He is a religious man who rightly sees his faith and the Judeo-Christian moral tradition as the source of his political actions, not the antithesis of them. He has consistently defended the family and traditional marriage, even when barraged by those who refuse to engage in a rational debate.

President Obama’s anti-religious social agenda must be confronted – and Santorum can stop it in its tracks. Santorum, unlike the other GOP candidates, has not just talked the talk on these core issues surrounding American life and liberty: he has walked the walk. The minions of the president’s social agenda in the media know this intuitively. Their hysterical reaction to Santorum proves his status as Obama’s most formidable challenger in this arena.

The intelligentsia’s furious attacks on Santorum coupled with its coddling of the Occupy Movement are just two indications that contemporary America may not be civil enough to discuss her identity and future. But President Obama has forced this conversation upon the nation by his callous mandate requiring Catholic employers to subsidize behaviors contrary to the Church’s creed.

He wants more than universal contraceptive coverage: he wants the Church out of the health care business entirely so that government can take over. If he is given a second term, he may well try to remove all churches’ authority to witness marriages so that only the government can officiate, with the genders of the couples no longer withstanding.

Santorum’s life and political career remind America of what George Washington, Alexis de Tocqueville, and Benedict XVI each have expressed so clearly: the character and decency of America – and with them her greatness as a nation – depend on her citizens’ religiosity and commitment to Judeo-Christian morality.

By extension, President Obama’s dismissal of religious freedom is an affront to America and her foundational ideals. Simply by being the GOP candidate, Santorum directs the campaign back to these ideals that matter most for our future.

This election will not solely be decided by social issues, and Santorum’s positions on the economy, government, and foreign affairs also have electoral appeal. Witness the way the media are always “surprised” by his primary wins. Yet the social issues remain the president’s greatest weakness – to Santorum’s greatest strength.

Santorum need not waver on his past assertions, as he awkwardly did when recently discussing a passage from his book about “radical feminists.” Contrary to the New York Times and MSNBC, it is the president – not Santorum – whose policies and practices place him outside the American mainstream and the American tradition.

The Obama presidency has charted a course for America that departs from our foundational principles. A Santorum candidacy directly challenges this course – and presents a legitimate hope that the ethical principles deriving from nature and nature’s God may remain among us for future generations.


David G. Bonagura, Jr. is an adjunct professor of theology at the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception, Huntington, NY.

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Comments (13)Add Comment
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written by TomD, February 19, 2012
"At the heart of every culture, whether perceived or not, is a consensus about the nature of reality and the moral good, and thus about the conditions for human flourishing." As much as I would like it to be otherwise, I believe that, in a political, social, and cultural confrontation between Santorum and Obama, we will lose.

Who is we? Those of use who believe in "traditional" America. At this very moment, there is strong evidence that Obama is pulling away in the polls against every Republican challenger. The HHS mandate discussion has, apparently, on balance, not hurt Obama, it has helped him. While many people may object to the specifics of the mandate controversy, they are now increasingly MORE likely to support Obama for re-election when polled against his Republican challengers. Polling is often not a precise indicator, but reveals more general trends in real time.

Whether this improvement in Obama's polling numbers is specifically tied to the media's reporting of "improvements" in the economy or not, only more detailed polling will reveal. And whether this improvement is not so much pro-Obama but a negative reaction to the Republican primary process and candidates, is also not clear.

But of this, there is little doubt: The heart of our culture IS changing before our very eyes, in ways we could never have imagined, and has been, slowly but steadily, for decades. This is the "transformation" that President Obama spoke of, a transformation in the very essence of America that is now becoming reality. While the Santorum candidacy would provide a clear challenge to the course that Obama and his supporters have charted - and here I hope that I am wrong - we had better be prepared to lose that challenge, given our current culture, the cleverness of our adversaries, and our own political ineptitude.
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written by Aquinas, February 19, 2012
Sigh...my Church's presidential preferences never cease to amaze me.

The initiation of force against another human being is immoral, which is why the country's separation of church and state doctrine is so important.

America is not supposed to have a Baptist President that imposes Baptist doctrines, or a Catholic President that imposes Catholic doctrines. The President's purpose is to protect your freedom.

Sure, Obama's contraceptive spree is an explicit infringement on your liberty - you do not have a choice to not fund it. Obama must be ousted.

But as a solution you choose Santorum?? How...How can a Catholic be so hypocritical as so to demand (rightly) we protect the lives of the unborn, but then support a man who will certainly destroy the lives of millions of already born people who are simply strangers overseas?

Why can't the Catholic Church embrace peace? Why can't the Church practice moral consistency in the value we place on a person's life?

The only PEACE candidate for miles is Ron Paul - the man who, in his latest book on Liberty, has devoted an entire chapter on the immorality of abortion. The same man who also vows (rightly) to end undeclared wars, stop the killing, and as a result, has received more donations from our active duty military man than Santorum + all other candidates combined.

Oh, and as a little strawberry on top, Ron Paul is an expert in Austrian Economics, making him the only politician to predict with startling accuracy the coming economic decline 10 years before it happened, and the only politician capable of restoring economic health.

A vote for Santorum is literally a vote for a million more deaths of innocent women and children whom you have never met.

Have a spine. Have a peaceful soul. Have the moral courage and consistency to vote for the only PEACE candidate who believes it is just as wrong to kill already born, innocent children, as it is to kill the the innocent unborn children.

Vote REAL Peace. Vote Ron Paul 2012.
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written by MikeS., February 19, 2012
Regardless of how attractive Santorum may be, he cannot win the general election. The last time the Republican party nominated someone who was more conservative than the electorate was 1964. Santorum, like Goldwater, is unelectable. Will conservative policy on family, faith, and marriage be furthered when Mr. Obama is reelected and has the opportunity to nominate more Supreme Court justices?
In this essay, I did not see any reference to credible polling data suggesting Santorum can win. I don't believe there is any. Republican primary voters who think that anything so prosaic as electibility is beneath their lofty principles will help Obama will win a massive victory (like LBJ in 1964). He may well control both houses of Congress to boot.

I don't much care for Romney, either, but I voted for him in the primary because he is the most conservative electable candidate and I did not want to bear partial responsibility for Obama's second term.

Santorum is never going to be president and he will never nominate Supreme Court Justices. The practical question is, whose nominees do you prefer, Obama's or Romney's?
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written by TomD, February 19, 2012
@Aquinas: I have little patience for this hyberbolic rhetoric. Rep. Paul voted to authorize the use of military force in Afghanistan.

Pub.L. 107-40, 115 Stat. 224, enacted September 18, 2001: " . . . the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons." Rep. Paul voted yes.

Is Rep. Paul, therefore, also responsible, according to your own standard, for the deaths of innocent women and children in Afghanistan?
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written by MikeS., February 19, 2012
What I wrote goes double for Ron Paul.

If electability is irrelevant, there is no need to settle for Ron or Rick as the Republican nominee. We might just as well nominate the Pope directly since it makes no difference whether the candidate that we nominate can win.

If you think that politics is more about making policy than it is about making speeches and you think even small practical goods are greater than operatic gestures toward theoretical perfection, neither Rick nor Ron nor Newt are suitable nominees.

My fear is that the negative attack ads and the intermural bloodletting among Republicans may hamstring Romney as well. This may mean that Obama, who should be a very vulnerable, one term president, may get reelected, not by his own record, but by the folly of Republicans.
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written by Aquinas, February 19, 2012
@TomD Paul also stated,

“There really is nothing for us to win in Afghanistan. Our mission has morphed from apprehending those who attacked us, to apprehending those who threaten or dislike us for invading their country, to remaking an entire political system and even a culture … This is an expensive, bloody, endless exercise in futility. Not everyone is willing to admit this just yet. But every second they spend in denial has real costs in lives and livelihoods … Many of us can agree on one thing, however. Our military spending in general has grown way out of control.”

First of all, there is an immense difference between militarily responding to an attack versus preemptive wars. There isn't a war Santorum wouldn't fight. Ron Paul, a veteran, with support from the majority of the US Military, is so significantly less trigger-happy, you can't seriously compare the war-proneness of Santorum vs. Paul. Whether or not you believe the fear-mongering is legitimate, I know you know it's plain fact that a Santorum presidency would have exponentially more US men and women with more guns and tanks than a Ron Paul presidency. And lest we forget from a few sentences ago, the actual men and women of our military who are active overseas and have firsthand experience with our foreign operations...overwhelmingly endorse Ron Paul - the military's commander in chief of choice since 2008.

Economically, Santorum can't hold a candle to Paul's incredible track record of predictions, education, teachings, and his understanding of the Federal Reserve's debilitating market distortions.

Relative to electability, Santorum can't hold a candle to the support Ron Paul has among independents that would otherwise vote Obama.

Constitutionally, it's silly to consider the distance Santorum's policies are from the US Constitution compared to Paul. Paul has been likened to a modern day Thomas Jefferson numerous times, with numerous factual parallels among Paul's policies and those of the Founding Fathers. Believing Santorum is a symbol of "traditional" America is delusional.

Versus Obama, polling says Santorum flat out has no chance. Only Ron Paul and Mitt Romney are within the margin of error of Obama, and based on long term trends, Paul would likely outperform Romney against Obama with his continually increasing support among independents.

Historical consistency, Santorum has a short track record with more inconsistency than Ron Paul's 30 year track record.

Having said that, of course I'm not going to convince you to retract your support from Santorum, and of course you aren't going to convince me to support Santorum. I just want to make sure you don't go on to vote Santorum with a clear conscience.
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written by TomD, February 20, 2012
@Aquinas: "I just want to make sure you don't go on to vote Santorum with a clear conscience." Interesting. Is this how a person of peace speaks with others they "have never met?"

And, as in other ways, your perception is wrong; I am actually NOT a supporter of Rick Santorum, but a deeply concerned conservative who sees, through this petty infighting, defeat being snatched from the jaws of victory.

Consider this: President Obama will be unfettered in a second term from the constraints of having to run for re-election again. If you think the first term was problematic, you ain't seen nothing yet.
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written by Dismas, February 20, 2012
The only way I'd change my vote in favor of Ron Paul at this point is if someone was to convince me that the Intelligentia's unconstitutional attack on religious liberty is a manufactured crisis purposely imposed to draw attention away from and prevent Ron Paul from getting elected and enabling him to dismantle the Intelligentsia controlled Federal Reserve. If the Federal Reserve and the Intelligentsia no longer control the country's purse strings, they no longer control the country. However, even if this were true, what I still don't understand and no longer trust regarding Ron Paul is why he's been so quiet regarding the unconstitutionality of this mandate or the impeachability of anyone imposing it. After all, isn't Ron Paul the libertarian CONSTITUTIONAL candidate, or something like that?

Oh well, marxist helegian dialetic is tricky stuff and far from me, but given the choices, Santorum has my vote.

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written by Grump, February 20, 2012
It's too bad Santorum, for being in the right on social issues, is mostly wrong on foreign policy, adopting a hawkish, almost bellicose stand, on Iran and other ostensible enemies of the West. He would do well to remember Christ's message to love thy enemy if indeed Iran is the enemy. As the Yiddish saying goes, "better a bad peace than a good war."
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written by Bill G., February 20, 2012
Ron Paul says that abortion is ok if the states say it is ok, and that the fed gov should just shut up about it.

Ron Paul is a "personally opposed" pro choice candidate.

Pro choice Ron Paul 2012!
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written by Frankly, February 20, 2012
Agree, Dismas. Santorum has my vote too. He is on track to win the Republican nomination. People care about all relevant issues and he has staked out common-sense positions on all of them. He has not been afraid to address values and the American people will respond to that when they consider what a second term of the current president will bring. This election is crucial. We all know it. But those who throw in the towel before the battle has been joined are woeful naysayers. Don't be. Join the fight.
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written by SantorumNotProLife, February 20, 2012
Unfortunately, I cannot consider former Senator Rick Santorum to be pro-life. On September 13, 1995, he voted to REQUIRE that states have family caps in their welfare policies, and to REQUIRE that states deny welfare support for minors who bear children out of wedlock. The family cap is a welfare reform provision where if a woman on welfare has more children, her welfare payments do not increase.

In addition, during his 1994 campaign for the U.S. Senate, then-Representative Rick Santorum also said that the federal government ought to REQUIRE states to include family caps in their welfare reforms. That means that he stopped being pro-life before he was even elected to the Senate.

Such provisions send the message that babies conceived out of wedlock by welfare mothers ought to be aborted, will tempt them to abort such babies instead of allowing them to be born, and are therefore pro abortion. The fact that they were requirements makes them all the more clearly pro-abortion. On the other hand, working families have dependency exemptions and child tax credits to help them with raising children.

More generally, the family cap made it clear back in the mid-1990s that the claims of conservatives and Republicans in general to be pro-life simply cannot be trusted. The question of family caps in welfare reform policies would seem to disqualify most Republicans and most conservatives from being pro-life. Although there may be a few individual exceptions, the family cap has completely discredited the Republican Party’s claims to oppose abortion.

Therefore, however awful the Democrats may be, the Republicans are simply NOT an acceptable alternative when it comes to moral values. By the same token, most of the other Republican presidential candidates this year besides former Senator Rick Santorum probably support the pro-abortion family cap as well, even if they claim to be pro-life. The same is probably also true of most Republican candidates for Congress, Governor, state legislatures, and other offices on the ballot this year.

Moreover, for some strange reason, mainstream pro-life organizations have failed to recognize that family caps are pro-abortion. Therefore, I cannot trust any endorsements of political candidates that they make either. I find pro-life silence on the question of family caps in welfare reform policies extremely hard to understand.

The abortion issue ought to make it clear that the problem of unmarried sexual activity will have to be solved by some other means besides punishing the woman after she is pregnant. The fact that a pregnancy is out of wedlock is absolutely no excuse for abortion. When it comes to out-of-wedlock pregnancies and childbirths, avoiding the further sin of abortion simply must have priority over punishing any prior sexual sins. In addition, Catholic moral teaching makes it clear that contraception is also an ABSOLUTELY IMMORAL means of reducing the number of babies born out of wedlock.

If all abortions stopped tomorrow, the number of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and childbirths would undoubtedly increase, at least in the short run, since I believe that most abortions are currently being performed on unmarried women. Therefore, honest opposition to abortion requires a willingness to put up with more out-of-wedlock pregnancies and childbirths in return for fewer abortions.

When politicians complain about out-of-wedlock pregnancies and childbirths, it is extremely probable that they favor using abortion and/or contraception as the means of dealing with the problem. For this reason, I must automatically exclude from being pro-life any politician who complains about the number of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and childbirths, unless they make it clear that they completely oppose abortion, contraception, or any post-conception penalties as the means of dealing with the problem.

I must consider any penalties whatsoever for pregnancy, childbirth, or single motherhood to be pro-abortion. Therefore, I must consider any attempts whatsoever to re-stigmatize out-of-wedlock pregnancies, childbirths, and single mothers to be pro-abortion. Our first priority in such cases has to be to minimize the risk of abortion. Abortion is a much greater evil than unmarried sexual activity.

Praying aside, it would seem that we are going to have to rely primarily on abstinence education to deal with unmarried sexual activity, although we may also need to do a better job of protecting women from sexual exploitation. At the very least, aside from praying, abstinence education, and protecting women from sexual exploitation, the problem of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and childbirths may have to wait until after abortion has been successfully outlawed.

Any penalties for unmarried sexual activity need to be limited to cases that do NOT involve pregnancy so as to avoid the danger of abortion, and they need to treat men and women as nearly equally as possible. At the very least, such penalties need to be taken care of BEFORE any pregnancy is known. In most cases, it may be necessary to just let God worry about the penalties for unmarried sexual activity, given the practical difficulties of proving it if there is no pregnancy, and the danger of encouraging the much greater evil of abortion if there is a pregnancy.

At the very least, if working families get things such as dependency exemptions and child tax credits to help them support their children, those same benefits ought to be available to welfare recipients as well. The only way that can happen is if the benefits of the dependency exemption and the child tax credit apply even to those with little or no income. In other words, these benefits MUST be made available even to those who are not working.

The simplest way to do that would be to make the dependency exemption and the child tax credit 100%-refundable tax credits. This also means that I must automatically exclude from being pro-life and pro-family those who favor abolishing the income tax, unless they explain how they would provide the benefits of the dependency exemption and child tax credit without it. The dependency exemption and child tax credit, even in their current forms, are extremely important pro-family provisions.

To conclude, why can't we use abstinence education to deal with the problem of immoral sexual activity? What is wrong with abstinence education? If an out-of-wedlock pregnancy or childbirth is the only visible evidence of immoral sexual activity, why can't we iust let God worry about the punishment for such sexual activity, given the risk of abortion if we try to impose penalties? At the very least, why can't we wait until after abortion is outlawed to address the problem of out-of-wedlock pregnancies and childbirths?

Also, why hasn't the dependency exemption been made a 100%-refundable tax credit instead of a tax deduction? Why isn't the child tax credit 100%-refundable?
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written by Leticia Velasquez, February 21, 2012
You are right on about Santorum's clarity in helping steer America back to her moral and religious moorings. That is why it disturbs be to see so many self-proclaimed good Catholics are not on board his ship. What candidate has EVER run for the presidency with as high moral principles as Rick Santorum? Who else could engage the Obama administration on the issues of contraception and abortion? Rick has even noted that the HHS mandate requires coverage of pre-ntatal testing for all women, one more way of making sure the disabled are not born into society where their need for services is costly.
Spare the litany of his past imperfections, that is merely a manifestation of your Catholic holier-than-thou pride. Santorum is running for president, not canonization.

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