‘I Wanted To Vomit’

That’s the way I felt when I read that Rick Santorum said it sickened him to read John F. Kennedy’s speech on separation of church and state.  Interestingly he was silent about a similar speech by Ronald Reagan.

Actually, Santorum, in order to promote his own narrow-minded views, misrepresented what JFK said in his 1960 speech to Baptist ministers in Houston.  He claims Kennedy’s message was “that people of faith have no role in the public square," but what the future president really said was that people of faith DO have a role in the public square but religion and state should be separate.

Ronald Reagan said much the same thing in a 1984 speech to Temple Hillel and Jewish Community Leaders in Valley Stream, New York.

"Church and state are, and must remain, separate,” he said. “All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief."

Perhaps Santorum overlooked Reagan’s words because he was unaware of them or, more likely, in this hyper-partisan environment he did not want to disagree with a venerated Republican icon.

Reagan understood what Santorum and his handful (if that many) of ultra-Orthodox Jewish supporters blithely ignore: Jews have thrived in this country because of its diversity; the Constitutional guarantee of separation of church and state protects our freedom to worship as we please free of government interference.  That’s what Santorum wants to change.

One could argue that Jews enjoy greater freedom in American than in Israel, where a small but powerful religious establishment is able to impose its rigid views and rules on the rest of society.  Not so here.

I suspect, however, that is what Santorum, who is emerging as the consensus favorite of Christian extremists, would like to see here.

The most appalling example of Santorum’s brand of intolerance was in full view on ABC’s This Week when he said John F. Kennedy’s historic speech calling for the separation of state and religion “makes me throw up.”

"I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute," he said. “What kind of country do we live in that says on people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up.”

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called those remarks “deeply disturbing” and said they represent “a profound misunderstanding of the First Amendment.”

In claiming the pole position as the most conservative Republican presidential hopeful, Santorum has staked out a number of positions that will drive away Jewish swing voters and ensure a huge turnout for the Democrats in November.  

He considers public schools “anachronistic” and calls Barack Obama a “snob” for saying everyone should be able to go to college.  He adds to that a phony claim that “62 percent of kids who go into college with a faith commitment leave without it.”

Santorum thinks contraception should be banned, all abortion criminalized, prenatal care ended, sexual intercourse reserved only for procreation, gay marriage can lead to bestiality and should be forbidden, and women belong in the home, not the office, and certainly nowhere near the military front lines.

Other Republican candidates seem to be going to extremes as well in pandering to their party’s evangelical base, but next to Santorum they look downright tolerant, and we suspect that unlike the former senator they don’t really mean it.  Especially a serial adulterer, a former OB/GYN and a one-time Massachusetts moderate.

As the most socially conservative of the candidates, Santorum is most troubling for Jewish voters who are drawn by the GOP’s calls for smaller government, reduced federal spending and strong support for Israel.  To them it’s the old Bill Clinton theme:  It’s the economy, stupid. Santorum’s motto seems to be: “It’s the bedroom, heathen”

He may be the Republican Democrats would most like to see running against Obama this fall. 

 “He’s too extreme for independents and a clear majority of Americans already. I’m confident that, as the most far-right social issues candidate in this race, he will repel the vast majority of American Jews,” said David A. Harris, head of the National Jewish Democratic Council.

In February a website calling itself “Jews Pick Rick” was set up with the goal of turning “the Orthodox community into Santorum territory, spreading Rick’s conservative message to Boro Park, Flatbush, Monsey, Lakewood and Five Towns.”

If Santorum, who told a town hall meeting in New Hampshire, “We always need a Jesus candidate,” is on the Republican ticket this fall, Obama’s 78 percent share of the Jewish vote in 2008 may look puny by comparison.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.