Santorum vs. Obama: The Debate America Needs Print
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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