I'm sure I'm not alone in finding Rick Santorum a uniquely repellent figure among contemporary Republicans, someone who combines standard-issue objectionable positions on things like economics with a level of reactionary venom on social issues that is becoming unusual even in his own party. With some Republicans, you get the feeling that they'll parrot the party line on the danger of gay marriage, but they really don't mean it. Santorum, on the other hand, really, really dislikes gay people (although he claims he has gay friends, but I'll believe that when we meet one). And he doesn't just want to make it impossible for women to have access to abortions, he actually thinks birth control is morally wrong and states ought to be allowed to ban its use. Coming as he does from the fringe, Santorum is prone to the offhand use of apocalyptic language, to wit:
Am I going to go after Mitt Romney on Romneycare? You bet I will, because it was the basis for Obamacare. Why? Because it’s top-down, government-run medicine. Does the state of Massachusetts have the right to do it, as you said? Yes they do, states have the right to do that. That doesn’t make it the right thing to do. I’m going to go out and piece by piece talk about how his approach is wrong, how it will destroy this country to have someone up against, who is not going to be willing to take on Obamacare, and has a track record of supporting that kind of statist government.
Indeed—why, Massachusetts has already been destroyed by the statist health-care reform Romney passed. Have you been there lately? Fires burn through the gutted husks of former MIT lecture halls, roving bans of cannibals stalk the streets of Cambridge, preying upon the weak to take their meat and pelts, Fenway Park has become a hellish thunder dome where desperate gladiators hack each other to death for the prize of a few drops of precious kerosene as the crazed crowd cheers for blood ... or maybe that hasn't actually happened.
Perhaps now that he's attracting some attention from reporters, one could ask Santorum, "You've said that the country will be destroyed if Republicans nominate someone who won't take on Obamacare strongly enough. Could you explain exactly what form this destruction will take? Breakup into warring mini-states? Hellfire from above? What?" Of course, Santorum would say that he didn't literally mean "it will destroy this country" when he said "it will destroy this country." He was just talking, you know?
Conservatives have gotten so used to this kind of apocalyptic rhetoric that they just toss it off without thinking. Obama will destroy America, a Republican one or two clicks to the left of me will destroy America, if I don't raise enough money to air my new ad, it will destroy America, and so on. I realize that this is a primary, and Santorum's key target audience is crazy people, but this is so tiresome. So let me say: As a liberal, I think that if a Republican wins the 2012 presidential election, bad things will result. Maybe even more than we can predict—in 2000, everyone thought George W. Bush was a moderate, friendly fellow who couldn't do much harm, and look how that turned out. But no matter how much the next administration or the administration after that does things I don't like, I know that America will live on. It will not be destroyed. We will not have to tell our grandchildren about a time when Americans were free. That doesn't mean political differences aren't important and meaningful in people's lives—they are. But please.