Home » A Response to Thomas Peters’s Defense of Rick Santorum

A Response to Thomas Peters’s Defense of Rick Santorum

January 6, 2012, 11:57 am | Posted by Nick Sementelli

Rick SantorumThat John’s piece this week outlining the Catholic case against Rick Santorum garnered a response from conservative Catholic blogger Thomas Peters is unsurprising. That Peters’s argument is so thin, however, is a little disappointing.

The biggest problem with Peters’s rebuttal is that he missed the ultimate point of John’s piece. While Peters reads it as a “theological assassination” of Santorum in defense of President Obama, John wasn’t trying to make the case for any other presidential candidates. He doesn’t even claim that Catholics can’t or shouldn’t vote for Rick Santorum.

As John makes clear in his conclusion, he simply wants to caution against anointing Santorum as some kind of ideal Catholic candidate. And to make his case, he lays out a series of issues on which Rick Santorum is publicly and clearly at odds with the position of the Catholic bishops and the Church at large. These are factual and historical points that exist regardless of either John’s or Peters’s opinions about any of these issues.

A review of Peters objections:

Immigration
Peters dismissively acknowledges that Santorum has “room to grow” on this issue, but then goes on to blame the President and Democrats at large for not reforming the system in the last three years. As I explained before, such comparisons are distractions from rather than rebuttals of John’s point, but I’ll humor Peters for a minute.

While Catholics have a very legitimate critique of this administration’s record on overzealous deportations, when it comes to the kind of comprehensive reform the Catholic bishops support it’s not any kind of secret which party has prevented it from passing over the last ten years.

I’d particularly encourage Peters to revisit the vote count for the DREAM Act last December, which was filibustered by 36 Republican and 5 Democratic Senators. The Catholic bishops, of course, emphatically supported the bill, and Rick Santorum has attacked his rivals over the issue.

But Peters “doesn’t see where…Santorum is saying something different” than the bishops on immigration reform. I find this statement puzzling, as John quoted Santorum openly acknowledging his disagreement with the bishops on this issue word-for-word in his original post:

“If we develop the program like the Catholic bishops suggested we would be creating a huge magnet for people to come in and break the law some more, we’d be inviting people to cross this border, come into this country and with the expectation that they will be able to stay here permanently.”

Poverty, Inequality and Financial Reform
Peters doesn’t even really try to engage with the substance of John’s points here — instead he just makes vague taunts about “lefty Catholics” at large and FPL’s “agenda”. As our “agenda” on these issues is pretty much the same as the Bishops, Peters should probably take his complaints up with them. I’ll just reiterate the facts:

The Bishops expressed serious reservations about Paul Ryan’s budget because of its refusal to raise adequate revenues, the disproportionate cuts to programs that protect the poor and vulnerable, and the unfair way it put the burden of Medicare cost-cutting on seniors. Santorum full-throatedly endorsed Ryan’s plan and proposed one of his own that would do the same things.

The Church is concerned with reforming the kind of unregulated capitalism and financial misconduct that led to the global recession. As a Senator, Santorum voted for deregulation that helped precipitate the crisis, and he continues to get his facts wrong on the cause of the meltdown.

Rick Santorum has adopted Randian “makers/takers” language and derided calls for more progressive taxation levels as “redistribution of wealth.” The Pope doesn’t even know this is supposed to be a dirty word.

Workers Rights
Here Peters just asserts that the issue is complex, but his view lines up with Santorum’s so there’s apparently nothing to see here.

Climate Change and the Environment
Peters’s bizarre lecture on the actual motivations of the environmental movement aside, the facts again here are simple. The Pope is concerned about the dangerous consequences of not addressing climate change; Rick Santorum thinks it’s a liberal conspiracy. The Catholic bishops celebrated the EPA’s recent mercury ruling; Santorum condemned it.

Torture and War
This one is a mess. Once again, rather than rebut the substance of John’s argument, Peters has to change the subject and introduce specious arguments. Accuse “the left” broadly of refusing to criticize President Obama? Check. Compare torture to drone assassinations without any explanation of the point? Check. Reduce Iranian foreign policy to a choice between bombings and nuclear apocalypse? Check. Excuse Santorum’s Catholically indefensible policies because they at worst prove “Santorum cares most for the safety of American citizens and interests”? Check.

Again, simple point: Santorum supports torture; Church doesn’t. Pope cautioned against Iraq war; Santorum championed it.

Peters ends with a long complaint that John didn’t bring up abortion and marriage. Unfortunately, that’s because they’re not related to the ultimate point of John’s post. Peters is, of course, right — there’s no debate about whether Santorum is in line with the Church’s opinions on these issues. He’s pretty vocal about his stances, and religious and political commentators don’t seem to have any trouble recognizing and noting them.

John’s goal was to help bring to light some of the issues that get less attention as “moral issues” in the media — and help political commentators avoid making the mistake of suggesting that examining a candidates’ positions on abortion and marriage is sufficient to determine whether they’re representative of Catholic political thought.

Now, I recognize that Peters and many other conservatives might argue that these two issues are so important that they essentially overwhelm a candidate’s divergent views on any other topics. Making tough calls between imperfect candidates is the nature of our two-party democracy, particularly for Catholics, and I wouldn’t have any problem if Peters’s contention just boiled down to that personal judgement.

To go further, I don’t really care if Peters wants to argue this is the only acceptable voting standard for Catholics at large, or that the only appropriate candidate for Catholics to vote for Rick Santorum because his Catholic “pluses” outweigh his Catholic “minuses.” The U.S. Bishops voting guide, Faithful Citizenship, asks all Catholics to weigh that exact kind of judgment, and such an opinion is certainly a reasonable one worth debating.

Even further, Peters is welcome to join Rick Santorum and argue that the Church is wrong on these issues — that any of these particular policies are matters of prudential judgement in which he and Santorum have reached different conclusions than the Church hierarchy. I would probably disagree with many of their conclusions, but I don’t think it would make either of them “bad Catholics.” Discrediting and demeaning my fellow Catholics’ faiths when I disagree with them just isn’t really something I’m interested in.

But, of course, Peters didn’t engage in a substantive debate about John’s factual arguments. Nor did he have the courage to admit he and Santorum just have a different position than the Church. In his eagerness to claim the mantle of Catholicism for his favored candidate, Peters seems not only willing to overlook Santorum’s discrepancies on a wide range of Catholic issues, but also to actively deny that they even exist. Combined with his propensity for putting words in people’s mouths and dishonestly ascribing ulterior motives, this dangerous obfuscation of fact in service of partisan politics damages Peters’s credibility and emblemizes the concerns many of us in the faith and politics have about the Catholic right more broadly.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

3 Responses to “A Response to Thomas Peters’s Defense of Rick Santorum”

  1. elliot j. stamler says:

    I am neither a Catholic nor a homosexual. That said, the single most important point about Rick Santorum is that throughout his career he has demonized gay Americans in language as to render them not merely less equal than other Americans but less equal as human beings. In doing this he emulates the late Adolf Hitler who pursued the same tactic in the 12 years he spent seeking the German chancellorship. We know what the result was to homosexuals and of course to his principal target, Jews.

  2. Andrew says:

    One thing that ought to be sorted out before implementing it too severely in arguments would be the gravity of episcopal insight on matters of domestic and foreign policy not explicitly characterized by some doctrine of faith or morals. In the beginning, you make the distinction between the Catholic bishops and the Church at large—most likely, because you realize that the bishops’ opinions on some things don’t amount to any sort of authoritative proclamation. Which would seem to be true.

    For purposes of the dialogue between FBL and Peters, what do you propose is the argumentative import of Santorum’s disagreement with the bishops? And, perhaps more germanely, do you really believe that a disagreement with the bishops on all items political counts as a sufficient ground for launching a “Catholic case against” him?

    It’s one thing to fly in the face of magisterial teaching. It’s another thing to disagree with someone’s opinion. I don’t think those two things are clearly enough sorted out in the post, above. (I stand ready to be advised, if I’m somehow in error, though.)

  3. Mary M. says:

    The life issue trumps all other issues. It is the single most important issue to consider when choosing a candidate from a Catholic perspective. Rick Santorum is pro life and pro traditional marriage. I have nave never heard Rick Santorum dehumanize anyone. The man speaks from his beliefs that marriage is between one man and one woman and that homosexual behavior is sinful. If we are people of faith we support his views. I don’t see how this dehumanizes gays. As Catholic Christians we do not condemn the sinner; we condemn the sin. And, we must do that if we are to preserve society for future generations as it works best.

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