Rick Santorum’s Cruel Conservatism
As I’ve noted before, Rick Santorum frequently touts his Catholic values on the campaign trail despite holding many positions that are fundamentally at odds with his own Church’s social justice tradition.
While Catholic bishops made life miserable for Sen. John Kerry over the issue of abortion during the 2004 presidential election, so far we have not heard from any Catholic leaders challenging Mr. Santorum’s public disagreement with his Church on immigration reform, government programs that protect the most vulnerable, racial justice or his blind faith in free markets. Perhaps Santorum’s latest knife to the back of compassionate conservatism will wake up some religious leaders.
At a recent campaign stop in Colorado, a young boy asked Santorum what the candidate can do to make medicine more affordable, and he was also challenged by the a mother who was worried that parents in her child’s cancer ward can’t pay for life-saving treatment. Instead of taking a pause from scripted talking points, Santorum seemed annoyed and proceeded to lecture the family about the tough spot lucrative drug companies are in these days.
He argued that “free people going out there and competing against one another” will solve the problem and warned that patients who advocate for lower prices for medicine will ultimately “freeze innovation.” And adding insult to injury, he whined that people are willing to pay $900 for iPads but complain about paying $200 for pharmaceuticals. (If he knows any such people, he declined to name names.)
Watch Santorum’s exchange on Rachel Maddow:
Later in the week at an event with Religious Right leader James Dobson, Santorum further demonstrated his lack of concern for the details of health policy by perpetuating the inexcusable lie that the new health care law includes death panels and brazenly inventing an HHS ruling that stroke victims older than 70 will be denied care.
The idea that drug companies are victims and parents of dying children need a lesson in free-market economics is as outrageous as it is insulting. It’s also an affront to centuries of Catholic social teaching. Bishops and several popes over the years, including Pope Benedict XVI, have insisted that health care is a basic human right and warned that unfettered free markets – focused solely on profit margins – often trample on human dignity.
Will conservative Catholic organizations that have endorsed Rick Santorum defend his comments? Do they disagree with Cardinal Peter Turkson of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace who recently said: “People who suffer from the way the financial markets currently operate have a right to say, ‘Do business differently. Look at the way you’re doing business because this is not leading to our welfare and our good.’”
GOP presidential candidates courting Catholic swing voters should take a break from polishing their stump speeches and read the powerful Vatican statement released a few months ago on the need for a moral economy. You can’t read this without considering how powerful drug companies and insurance companies dictate the terms of health care by denying coverage to sick people or making life-saving drugs so expensive that even middle-class families struggle to afford medical bills. “We should not be afraid to propose new ideas, even if they might destabilize pre-existing balances of power that prevail over the weakest,” the Vatican urged.
The health care reform law that Republicans want to overturn address many of these egregious abuses, of course, but it’s more politically convenient to demonize and distort “Obamacare” on the campaign trail than give real answers to a scared parent.
Santorum sees himself as the ideal choice for “values voters” in this election. He has every right to worship at the altar of radical individualism and put his faith in the salvation of the free-market. This will surely be greeted with hallelujahs from the conservative choir. But it’s a posture that’s hard to square with bedrock Catholic values and a message preached by a prophet from Nazareth who healed the sick and threw the money changers out of the Temple.