David Weigel, "A Kinder, Gentler Rick Santorum: Now that the man in the vest is surging in the polls, he’s toning down his talk on homosexuality, gay marriage, and abortion. Meet Santorum 2.0. " February 17
LEAVE us return, at least momentarily, to a recurring theme: Suckiness is a product of the 70s, a fact which is evidently lost on the 1.75 generations of adult Americans who didn't really live through them, or who only recall them through the unquenchable thirst for Oompa Loompa references.
Look, I'd never be so cavalier as to blame 70s Suck on people who had nothing to do with it. It's what we might call the Sha Na Na Effect, which every generation must confront anew: what seems like a hoot when you're a Columbia undergrad will pall long before it finds itself seated between the Landers sisters and Lee Horsley on The New Hollywood Squares. The march is inevitable, and the modern era has only made it worse. Still, the Reader is reminded--or perhaps informed for the first time--that the fact that he can automatically perform the break when he reads the words "Bohemian Rhapsody" is entirely due to some fucker who thought it would be funny to bring it back.
As I've mentioned here before, it took just two men to wreck the German Mark in the 1920s, and it took just two men--Gene Roddenberry and Roone Arledge--to sink American postwar culture. (Yes, Star Trek was a product of the Sixties--where it fucking bombed--but its popularity as a cultural touchstone for people who missed the televised morality lessons of the half-hour "Western", and wished they could somehow be updated for the Punch-Card Age, dates to its revival on the rerun circuit in, yes, the Decade of Disco.
The Seventies--the decade when America ran screaming from the previous fifteen years of social progress and personal freedom--were the breeding ground for the self-absorbed, libertarian-valueless, facile anti-intellectualism we're mired in today. The 70s gave us the Instantaneous Rewrite of Vietnam to Assuage Our Hurt Self-Image, introducing us, in the process, to the Spat-upon Returning War Veteran and Old Glory as a simplistic political press-on statement, to Reverse Discrimination, Allan Bakke, and the But We Solved Racism in the Sixties argument, and the Tax Revolt, that spiffy updating of anti-fluoridationism. The 70s replaced the gentle, agrarian and communal joys of marihuana with the secretive, exclusive, and criminal joys of cocaine. The 70s gave us Yuppies, gave American Food pretensions it never earned, and granted Camille Paglia a Ph.D.
If Ronald Reagan was the horrible, untested, human-paraquat enema America tried as a cure for its Sixties hangover, the 70s were the unspeakable rash that drove it to quack medicine in the first place.
Oh, and, a generation-and-a-half which imagines that this is how Journalism sounds:
We know that this election will be about taxes, the size of government, and America's place in the world. We know there will be energy, education, and defense policy speeches. We see all of that coming in slow steady steps. But what quickens the pace of presidential campaigns and sends it into crazy corners is the secret reveal: the moment where one candidate or party slips and gives us a window into their entire world-view. With the contraception debate, both parties are exposed.
Yeah, Heaven forfend that arguments about taxes, or America's place in the world tell us anything about a party's worldview. Since that might require our army of faux-balancers to comment on something serious, and dull.
I'm sorry, did I say serious? I retract. Contraception and reproductive rights are as serious as anything; the fight over the Republican desire that the wealthy pay no taxes is temporary mud-slinging by comparison. The reason the punditocracy can treat it as small potatoes is the reason behind so much "news" coverage: it doesn't matter to the average reporter, who is in no danger of becoming a single mother, and who believes the Republican party is really only there to cut his personal taxes. (Compare the price of gasoline; a significant rise--the result of typical market forces the "news" celebrates as a perfect system run by perfect men--is treated as a personal affront to all Americans. My goddam local news treats air travel inconveniences more seriously than contraception. And gives it more airtime. )
That's before we get to the faux-balance shit:
For Republicans, the original Obama contraception policy—which required Catholic hospitals to cover their employees who used it—is an example of what they've been complaining about all along. The White House will pass policies in the dead of night that infringe on your most sacred beliefs. They were caught this time, but there are hundreds of other secret offenses in the works, plots yet to hatch that will trample on our rights as citizens. You don't need to think that Barack Obama is evil to worry about these plots. He thinks he's actually trying to "help." As Sen. Scott Brown put it, "Basically the government is saying, 'Just do what you're told, and leave the moral questions to us.' "
is equated to:
The Democratic mind has even more kindling to fire the imagination. This week House Republicans held a hearing on contraception but invited no women to testify. Foster Freiss, Rick Santorum's key financial backer, joked that women used to prevent pregnancy by putting an aspirin between their knees. Santorum has promised that as president he will use the bully pulpit to speak out against sex for purposes other than procreation. "One of the things I will talk about that no president has talked about before is … the dangers of contraception in this country, the whole sexual libertine idea ...[Contraception’s] not OK, because it’s a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be." In response, Democratic Sen. Patty Murray wrote in a fundraising appeal: "I feel like I woke up this morning on the set of Mad Men. ... Republicans have set their time machine for the 1950s."
So, in whose world is the opposition claim of a Republican War on Contraception equal to the opposition claim that Democrats are trying to outlaw religion in the dead of night?
I dunno. Faux-contrarian-libertarian-leaning reporters who Got Theirs, Jack? "Moderate" faux-contrarian-libertarian-leaning Republicans who really wish the Base would turn out to vote, then shut up for 700 days or so and quit embarrassing them? It's okay, so long as we can claim that people are only saying shit to get elected?
Whoever paints the darker fantasy has the political advantage.
I'm sorry, Mr. Dickerson, but you were alive and sentient through the last decade, right?
The wax gets softer the hotter the politics. An independent voter—who wants to see progress and not ideological fights—can easily imagine that a future President Romney would compromise at the first sign of controversy.
As opposed to "cave to the extreme Right, which he's been doing since 2007"?
Tell me, John: what does "compromise" on contraception look like?
That is not true of Rick Santorum. He is far more likely to stick to policies that match his socially conservative views. That is the liberal caricature—but also the fervent belief of Santorum’s own supporters.
Wait, Rick Santorum's social conservatism is a liberal caricature?
Santorum's views on social issues are not the sum total of the Santorum campaign. As Dave Weigel points out, Santorum is working hard to show he has appeal beyond the social issues.
Well, loc. cit., as we say in the footnote game:
The Rick Santorum who’s soaring in primary polls looks a lot like the Santorum who lost his 2006 re-election bid by 18 points. Here is a difference: His culture war talk is softer, more implied. He talks up his welfare reform role and his doom-saying about Iran far more than he talks up his stances on homosexuality or Prop 8. He doesn’t need to emphasize it, because the people who acid-test Republicans on social issues know they can trust him. He rallied for Terri Schiavo once; he doesn’t have much else to prove.
So the Rick Santorum who finds himself, by default, the standard-bearer for Really Lunatic Religious Republicanism--simply because the Possibly Even Bigger Lunatics got run out of town--the Rick Santorum who couldn't get any traction with Republican lunatic voters so long as there was a Rick Perry or Herman Cain in the race, that Rick Santorum is now trying to de-emphasize his religious lunacy? Trying to change the subject when Mr. Foster Freeze makes a bad joke, where the old Rick Santorum would have read it into the Congressional Record?
So President Santorum wouldn't just be the Anti-Contraception President? He'd also bomb Iran and require people on welfare to abstain from sex? He's got serious policy proposals, in other words? Well, let's see the liberals try to caricature that.