Rick Santorum, who is running for the Republican nomination for president, will soon disappear from public consciousness, as Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney duke it out. But before he does, it is worth contemplating something interesting about his candidacy. He has, from the very beginning, wrapped himself in the cloak of piety, religious belief, and general godliness. Whenever challenged about his policies on homosexuality and abortion, he always states that he stands where he stands because his bible tells him so. Christianity, in this case, is automatically conflated with goodness and kindness. His policies might sound harsh, but they cannot be, by definition, because of the milk and honey of his devout belief.
The little-observed oddity about Rick Santorum is that he does not seem to be a very nice man. I very rarely do ad hominem in politics, because I think it is often cheap and unfair. If you present yourself as good and kind and faithful though, you must expect those claims to be examined. There are numerous video clips from the campaign trail where Rick Santorum becomes impatient, dismissive and even aggressive when faced with dissent. I noticed this in particular with a group of bright, engaged university students, who were asking him about gay marriage. Instead of debating with them, he hectored and talked over them, in a most unChristian fashion.
Rachel Maddow, who goes where the rest of the press pack do not, has picked up on this, and had a brilliant segment on it in her show this week. She shows two really shocking moments, where Santorum loftily ignores, even mocks, the concerns of a brave little boy who asked him a question (I am always incredibly impressed by children who are bold enough to do this; it must be so nerve-wracking) and a mother with a child suffering from cancer. These are not hardy political opponents or toughened hacks. They are very ordinary members of the public, in some ways the most vulnerable among us: a worried mother, a young child. Santorum acts as if they count for nothing.
I don't know quite what I take from all this. But I was shocked. The Maddow segment is quite long, sixteen minutes, but if you have any interest in politics, morality, and people acting on their beliefs rather than just mouthing them, it's really worth a watch.