Vox Pop

The Prospect's politics blog

Where Are All These Atheist Politicians?


Throughout the 2012 race Rick Santorum has tried his best to distance his campaign from his image as a vehicle for the religious right. He has scorned the media for asking questions on the culture wars, spends his days touring the Midwest to tout his plan for manufacturing, all while leaving social moralizing at the dog whistling level. But on Sunday, the old fire and brimstone Santorum was back in full force in an interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos when the discussion turned to John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech on the separation between church and state. "What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up," Santorum said.

Santorum's Double Standard

To follow-up on Jamelle's analysis of Rick Santorum's repudiation of fundamental First Amendment values, it's worth considering some comments made by Santorum in 2008, when he wasn't running for president and could be even more candid:

Santorum Disqualifies Himself for the Presidency

(John F. Kennedy/Library of Congress)

At this point, most people who cover the Republican presidential campaign—or Republican politics in general—are accustomed to Rick Santorum and his right-wing social conservatism. Even still, this deserves way, way more attention than it’s currently receiving.

“Earlier in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up,” Santorum told an audience at the College of Saint Mary Magdalen.

In an ABC News interview Sunday, George Stephanopoulos asked Santorum why the speech would make him throw up, to which the candidate replied:

Romney's Wealth Problem


Americans have come to expect a certain patrician baseline from their political class. Congress is stocked full of millionaires, and in the 2008 campaign Joe Biden was considered working class for riding Amtrak, despite having a net worth in the hundreds of thousands. No one bats an eye now when Rick Santorum whines about his meager means on the debate stage then releases tax returns revealing that he rakes in over $900K a year.

Architects of Their Own Defeat

Jonathan Chait has a great feature in New York Magazine on the frantic fear among Republicans that this is their last chance to stop the leftward drift of the United States as it becomes younger, browner, and more educated. He zeroes in on the apocolyptic rhetoric of GOP lawmakers and presidential candidates, but his most important point, I think, is this:

Santorum Goes For Gold In Oppression Olympics

(Flickr/Mike Jahn)

So Rick Santorum was being interviewed on "This Week" yesterday, and he said that when he read John F. Kennedy's famous 1960 speech in Houston to a group of Protestant ministers, he "almost threw up." The context for Kennedy's speech was that the man who would become America's first Catholic president was being subjected to a venomous campaign of religious hatred, in which people like the men in that audience were telling voters that if Kennedy were elected, he would be nothing but a tool of the Vatican, doing the Pope's dastardly bidding instead of what was in the best interest of Americans. So Kennedy gave this speech, in which he asserted that he believed in an absolute separation between church and state, for the protection of both. The ministers in attendance, most of whom considered the Catholic Church an un-Christian abomination, were unmoved. The Kennedy campaign quickly cut ads excerpting the speech, which they used to rally Catholic voters. But here's how Santorum described his horror at Kennedy's message:

"To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up."

Of course, Kennedy said nothing of the sort. Quite the opposite, in fact -- he said that no one should be denied public office because of their religion, and that he believed in an America "where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all." The problem Rick Santorum has with Kennedy's message is this: If you're a religious minority, then official neutrality in matters of religion is a guarantor of freedom. But if you're in the majority, then protection isn't what you need. Here's the part of Kennedy's speech that I think really gave Santorum the dry heaves...

Where Does Obama Stand?

(AP Photo)

If you are a committed Democrat or partisan Republican, then it seems that, for today at least, you have two polls to choose from. Republicans can look with glee at a USA Today and Gallup poll of registered voters in swing states, where former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum holds a 50–45 lead over President Obama, and former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney takes first place at 48 to 46.

Meanie Mitt Pulls Ahead

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)

Rick Santorum's improbable moment atop the GOP field seems likely to fade away just as quickly as his anti-Romney predecessors. A pair of new numbers from Public Policy Polling point toward tomorrow being a triumphant day for Mitt Romney. The former Massachusetts governor leads by an insurmountably wide margin in Arizona. He's up 43-26 percent over Santorum, and carried early voters—which will constitute nearly half of Arizona's total vote count—by 48-25. And after trailing Santorum by as much as 15 percent three weeks ago, Romney has reopened a slight Michigan lead of 2 percent.

The Republican Al Gore

(AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)

I have a confession to make: Mitt Romney is really starting to get on my nerves.

It's nothing I'm proud of. I try to be as rational as possible in my writing and analysis of politics, marshaling facts to support my claims and avoiding impugning people's motives as much as possible. But I think I'm beginning to understand how Republicans felt about Al Gore in 2000. I don't mean what they thought or believed, like the phony story that Gore claimed to have invented the internet (he didn't). And I don't mean the simple displeasure we get from having to listen to someone we disagree with talk for a long time. I mean how they felt on an emotional, visceral level, whether those feelings were justified or not.

Romney, Santorum, and God

(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

In February 1849, Brigham Young, the man who unified the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, declared that the black man’s color is the mark of Cain—the manifestation of the first capital crime, Cain’s murder of his brother. These days Mormon revisionism doesn’t so much contest as ignore Young’s decree, implying that it’s urban legend. What the Church can’t dispute is that until three decades ago, African Americans were prohibited from playing any role in the Church, and the extent to which they’ve done so since is minimal. Governor Mitt Romney, a lifelong practicing Mormon, never has been keen to discuss this, and one of the ironies of the last few weeks is that he might not have to, if his candidacy continues to deteriorate courtesy of former senator and Catholic firebrand Rick Santorum.

The Republicans' Primary Problem

The wrong analogy. (White House/Pete Souza)

Every presidential nominee faces a similar problem: in the primaries, you have to appeal to your base voters, tickling the tender parts of the ideological true believers, but in the general, you need to appeal to independents, necessitating a move to the center. The transition from one to the other can be awkward. In the last few days, I've heard a number of Republicans give the same answer when this question is brought up. Isn't their eventual nominee being hurt by the fact that their primaries involve a lot of things like immigrant bashing and coming out against contraception? Nah, they reply, it'll all be OK -- after all, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton had a hard-fought primary in 2008, and he still won easily in the fall. I suspect we'll be hearing this many times over the next few months, so let me explain why it's completely mistaken.

Obama and Clinton did indeed have a hard-fought primary. It was vigorous, at times even a little ugly. But there's one thing it never was: A contest over who was the most ideologically extreme.

That isn't to say Democrats didn't talk amongst themselves about which candidate was the truer liberal. They did. A lot. I'll confess that I was one of the many who ended up believing, with only the most limited evidence, that Obama would display far more fealty to progressive principles than Clinton would, a belief that turned out to be misplaced. I even once wrote that I thought that on health care, Clinton would see the public option as nothing but a chip to be bargained away, while Obama would fight to keep it (ha!).

But with the exception of a couple of brief moments (like when Clinton criticized Obama for praising Ronald Reagan), that discussion didn't come from the candidates themselves. There were no Clinton ads saying, "Hillary Clinton: The true liberal." Or Obama ads saying, "Barack Obama: Liberal values, a record of liberalism." Their campaign, when it got beyond the day-to-day squabbles, was what then-TAP editor Mark Schmitt called the "theory of change primary" -- not about who was the most liberal in their hearts, but about which method of politics would produce the kind of results they agreed on.

There may be almost no difference between what Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum actually propose to do once each becomes president. But they and the other candidates have spent the last few months saying, in full view of the entire electorate, "I'm the most conservative!" "No, I'm the most conservative!" You got ads like this one, in which Santorum attacks Romney for his prior liberal positions, and ends with the tag line, "Rick Santorum: A trusted conservative." You've got this Ron Paul ad saying Santorum's a "fake conservative." You've got Mitt Romney feeling so much pressure that he has to proclaim that as governor he was "severely conservative." All that produces headlines like this one: "Romney, Santorum battle over who's more conservative."

So the nominee, most likely Romney, will have to distance himself from all that once the fall comes. And quite conveniently for Barack Obama, that will necessitate some ideological squirreliness that will reinforce exactly the critique the Obama campaign will be making of his character.

Chart of the Day

It’s always useful to have the proper context when evaluating the popularity of a presidential candidate. Otherwise, it’s hard to know if you’re looking at a deviation, or the usual pattern. Mitt Romney’s high unfavorables are unusual, for example, but the real question is how unusual? To that end, Talking Points Memo has a chart comparing the favorability of presidential candidates over the last decade:

Obama's Michigan Pitch

As Republicans blanket the Michigan airwaves with negative ads haranguing each other before Tuesday's primary, Barack Obama's reelection campaign has released a Michigan-centric spot touting the success of the auto bailout. Titled, "Made in America," the ad takes a similar tone to the Chrysler/Clint Eastwood "Halftime in America" Super Bowl commercial, both filled with nostalgic tinged images of past American manufacturing greatness before highlighting car production as a means to restore the country's economy. "Made in America. For generations of Michigan autoworkers it's more than a slogan, it's a way of life," the ad's gruff narrator intones.

How To Make Romney Look Popular

(Ford Field/Kevin Yezbick)

Mitt Romney is set to speak before the Detroit Economic Club later this morning to expound upon his recently unveiled tax policy. Befitting the importance his campaign has placed on the event and his self-perceived status as the frontrunner, Romney will address the group at Ford Field, home to the Detroit Lions, a stadium which seats 65,000. The only problem for the Romney campaign is that there isn't a throng of thousands interested in turning out during lunch for a lesson on fiscal policy. As the Detroit Free Press reported, the stage and audience will be situated to make the 1,200 attendees look as if it's as packed as any NFL game: