Thanks to a Facebook friend who alerted me to this video of Rick Santorum, speaking to the Values Voter Summit on Saturday:
The money line: “We will never have the media on our side. Ever. We will never have the elite, smart people on our side. Because they believe they should have the power to tell you what to do. So our colleges and universities, they’re not going to be on our side.”
(I’m assuming he’s excepting the Jerry Falwell-founded Liberty University, the logo of which can be seen on the wall of sponsors behind Santorum.)
The temptation here is to laugh at the inside joke we all see — who wouldn’t want to be on the side of the smart people? And if the smart people aren’t on your side, is it because you’re stupid? Aren’t social conservatives also trying to tell us what to do, or rather not to do, by banning abortion and gay marriage? And what’s up with this anti-intellectualism that seems to permeate the “values voters” movement, anyway?
But we should resist making that joke. I know plenty of conservatives who are very smart, not least of whom are my colleagues on the Review-Journal‘s editorial page. We happen to have an ongoing disagreement about the role of the government in American life, but I don’t think my position on the issue makes me any smarter or better than those who disagree with me.
Then again, my R-J colleagues and most of the conservatives I hang with are more libertarian-leaning. Santorum doesn’t really have much respect for them, as he goes on to say this:
“The basic premise of America, and American values, will always be sustained through two institutions: the church and the family. And so economic conservatives and libertarian types can say, ‘Oh, well, we don’t want to talk about the social issues.’ Without the church and the family there is no conservative movement, there is no basic values of America in force and there is no future for our country.”
OK, now you can see why smart people will never be on poor Rick’s side. Because smart people realize that we can have moral values apart from religion. (By the way, need it be repeated that the murders of a U.S. ambassador and several others — including a resident of the Las Vegas Valley — in Libya this week were inspired by religious values?) Smart people realize that liberals, libertarians and most other people can have strong family values, too. (Look at Rep. Ron Paul; he’s been married to the same woman for 55 years and they have five kids, one of whom is a U.S. senator.) Smart people realize a conservative movement can be built on an economic message, without the need to address social issues. (A government big enough to prohibit abortion in all cases and ban gay marriage or drug legalization is certainly a government big enough to spend us into bankruptcy, is it not?)
My theory is that Santorum fails to understand these things because he fails to grasp the basic essence of what America is all about: A melting pot of people from around the world who sought out freedom in a country that respected individual rights and wisely divided the powers of government to prevent tyranny, both from the government, and from the will of the majority.
And the citizens of that great country, religious and non-religious alike, through their identity as Americans, set about every day, every year, every election to struggle a little further toward their ideal of a more perfect union, and in the process have built a pretty damn great country.
Smart people get that. And yes, smart people will never be on Rick Santorum’s side, in part because he’s not smart enough to consider the possibility that maybe he’s on the wrong one.
UPDATE: David Weigel of Slate has another perspective on the Santorum remark.