The GOP candidate's religious beliefs lead him to divide the world into good and evil.
Rick Santorum / Reuters
Even the least cynical campaign watcher might tire of seemingly rabid pundits waiting for another verbal gaffe or scandal to hit the wires. But what if the skeleton emerging from the proverbial closet was the devil himself?
The web was on fire last week with a speech unearthed from 2008 in which Rick Santorum, addressing students at a very conservative Catholic university, explained that he saw Satan at war with America. The pundit class immediately pointed to this as yet more evidence that Santorum is out of step with the twenty-first-century voter--nevermind that recent polls indicate that large majorities of Americans still profess belief in the devil.
Asked to respond, Santorum sought to downplay the speech, simply stating that he believes "in good and evil." Satan and the demonic--and even the notion of evil--aren't part of polite elite discourse anymore, so perhaps it was unsurprising that media commentators found their use shocking. But among all the evocations of horned creatures and 1970s horror movies, they missed something far more important than a tired fault line of the culture war. Santorum's argument relies upon a vision of the country's history that has become an article of faith among many neocons and liberals: America as an inherently exceptional nation.
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It is because of this special status, Santorum argued, that "the Father of Lies has his sights on what you would think the Father of Lies would have his sights on: a good, decent, powerful, influential country--the United States of America." What Catholic University professor Claes Ryn warned has become "America the Virtuous" stands alone, unique in history as a target for evil forces. "If you were Satan," Santorum asked, "who would you attack in this day and age? There is no one else to go after other than the United States and that has been the case now for almost two hundred years, once America's preeminence was sown by our great Founding Fathers."