Friday, October 06, 2006

A Churchillian Moment

U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum was only half way through his declamation on Islamofascism yesterday (Thurs. 10-06) when a quote from Winston Churchill, nestled somewhere deep within my brain, struggled up to the surface. It was his famous definition of a fanatic -- as someone who can't change his mind and won't change the subject.
Santorum was visiting the Inquirer's Editorial Board for its endorsement meeting, an on-the-record interview that is a ritual for candidates at election time. Santorum's relationship with the Editorial Board has not been one of mutual warmth and affection, but it was a civil encounter because the board was content mostly to let the senator do the talking.
And talk he did.
Santorum's discourse on the manifold evils of radical Islam was a Reader's Digest version of one he gave earlier at the Harrisburg Press Club. You can find the full text of that speech here.
I won't go into the merits of his argument. There are other blogs for that.
No, the thought that struck wasn't philosophical or theological. It was purely political.
Rick Santorum is running for President of the United States.
And he is running as Winston Churchill.
If he does win re-election on Nov. 7th (a prospect that looks doubtful at this point) he will run as a political wunderkind: A red-meat conservative who survived against all odds in a blue state. If can win in Pennsylvania, imagine what he can do elsewhere? He becomes just what the Republican party needs to lead it out of the wilderness.
If he loses, he runs as a Martyr-Saint of True Conservatism. The man who stood by his principles, spoke the truth as he saw it, and went down to defeat due to a (temporary and regrettable ) triumph of moral and political relativism. He becomes just what the Republican party needs to lead it out of the wilderness.
The analogy to Churchill is not my own, it is the senator's.
As Santorum tells it, this is not 2006 and the United States is not grappling with mere terrorism. This is 1936 and we are facing the rise of Fascism. Why can't we see the clear and present danger? Because we are besotted by the vices and enticements of the modern world. Fat and happy, zonked out on HDTV, too morally and intellectually weak to see the manifest evil of our enemy.
Iran is an example. Europe wants to pretty-please the regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad out of developing nuclear weapons. Even President Bush is dithering. In short,
the best lack all conviction, while the worst are filled with passionate intensity…
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Why, it's Islamofacism.
(I always wondered what that poem meant.)
It is easy to get swept away in the Santorum cosmology: Good vs. Evil. Islam vs. Christianity. East vs. West. It is also equally easy to hear it in and say: This is f%#*ing nuts!
But that's beside the point.
The point is the political value of these views to Santorum. People who to react to Santorum viscerally (pro or con) tend to forget that he is a wonderfully talented and skilled politician. . He's won two terms in the Senate in a state where, arguably, he is way too conservative for the average voter. He has risen quickly to a leadership position in the Senate, and (if re-elected) he seems destined to go higher. Along with regular discourses on Faith, Life & the American Way, he also delivers the pork to the folks back home. (As yesterday's meeting, he took credit for $800 million of the $1.2 billion Philadelphia has received to redo its public housing.) His political campaigns are models of smart media and brilliant field operations.
In short, Rick Santorum may pray the rosary, but he's also read Machiavelli.
And now he has decided to become Winston Churchill, which is a wonderful thing to be, if he can pull it off. Resolute, fearless and eloquent. What a glorious combination.
Of course, Santorum lacks Churchill's benign public demeanor -- something he shared with his fellow artistocrat, Franklin Roosevelt. The senator can't help but exude arrogance, a trait that is off-putting, but probably beyond remediation. It's hard-wired into his personality.
He also lacks on his current vita an important chapter in Churchill's life -- his years in political exile between the two World Wars, when he was scorned by liberals and conservatives alike as an eccentric liability to any regime in power. The one-word title of second volume of William Manchester's great biography of Churchill tells it all. "Alone."
The thought crossed my mind yesterday, whilst the senator was launching his peroration on Islamofascism, that the likelihood of defeat has crossed his mind. Not to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but to Bob Casey. And that he is preparing himself, psychologically and politically, for the next stage in his life. One that would last, he would hope, not 18 years as Churchill's did, but 18 months.
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Blogger rasphila said...

That passage about fanatics is also my favorite Churchill quote. Boy, does it ever apply to Santorum.

By the way, his latest face-to-camera ads remind me of a wonderful episode of Yes, Prime Minister, the British political satire, in which the Prime Minister is rehearsing for his first political broadcast. The Prime Minister's attempts to appear less "wooden" by constantly sort-of smiling and changing his expression are hilarious. Santorum's facial gyrations in his ad are a dead ringer. Only they're not satire. Not intentionally, anyway.

12:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

boring-we'll see who is on the right side of history, the repubs or the dems, churchill would never get a vote in a blue state

2:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Senator Santorum apparently believes that Islamic militants who say they seek the destruction of the West and its way of life really mean it, and are a threat that needs to be confronted now, before the threat grows in magnitude.

One may agree or disagree with the Senator, but he makes clear what is his belief, and will let the voters make their choice accordingly.

Bob Casey Jr. tell us he wants the 911 Commission's recommendations implemented, without elaborating or explaining the context. In other words, the usual waffling and pandering expected of a Pennsylvania hack career politician.

Has Mr. Casey even thought seriously about national security and the nature of the world? If so, he gives little indication to the voters.

It's impossible to find any politician whose views and votes are entirely satisfactory all the time. We have to choose between imperfect candidates in a diverse state and country.

I would rather know clearly how a candidate or incumbent thinks, and what she or he believes, when making that choice. Even if I do not agree with them, if their reasoning and positions are clear and consistent I have some confidence.

I wish Mr. Casey could give even the slightest indication of thoughtful and consistent convictions. Santorum may fall short of the Churchill standard, but Mr. Casey is not even a Harold Wilson or Stanley Baldwin, hardly an attractive alternative.

2:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd vote for anybody other than Santorum, certainly Churchill, maybe a pro wrestler or Daffy Duck. Anyone would be less scary. Does Santorum not see the latent fascism in his own beliefs???

2:25 PM  
Anonymous pasha said...

Another Churchill quote comes to mind when I hear Santorum speak:

"He has all the virtues I despise and none of the vices I admire."

2:40 PM  
Anonymous phillydem said...

"It is also equally easy to hear it in and say: This is f%#*ing nuts!"

That sure captures my sentiment exactly.

And I agree with anonymous #3 that you need only replace a few names and you have a speech that any of the religios zealots in the ME would be comfortable giving.

2:45 PM  
Blogger Frank said...

Great post Tom. I couldn't agree with you more that guy is f@#!ing nuts. You make some very insightful points about Santorum's ideas and future plans regardless if he wins or loses on election day.

9:38 PM  
Blogger turquis said...

From Wikipedia

"Fascism is a radical political ideology that combines elements of corporatism, authoritarianism, nationalism, militarism, anti-anarchism, anti-communism and anti-liberalism."

Fascism seems to be what George Bush and Santorum are all about which is not at all Churchillian.

8:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, I really love Santorum's stand against moral relativism.

Like how when Bush tortures people, it's good and for all the right reasons, but if anyone else in the world tortures it's because they're evil, evil, evil.

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Lead Republicans out of the wilderness...what country have you been living in?

11:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Christianity originated in the East.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous HazardWeimar said...

Facism? Twice! Once you can stick on a sloppy copy editor. Twice, and it's a spelling goof. Shame, the nuns would howl. And Yeats you don't understand before Rick? Yikes. Some slouch.

1:31 AM  
Blogger LVDem said...

I said when he released his book that Santorum is running for president (win or lose). His position in the senate is just a pay check at this point.

7:40 AM  
Blogger Jimmy the Saint said...

Anon 2:24,
Why should Casey embellish on his beliefs? Bush never did. Republicans run on the whole God, Guns and Gays theme. The media won't pay attention any elaborating, so why should Casey bother? What has Santorum done? Is he really a Conservative? Where is the fiscal responsibility? You call him a Conservative after his response to the Terri Schiavo debate. Where is the less intrusive Federal Gov't? If you think Casey is a political hack, then Santorum is exactly the same. Besides, Santorum has abdicated his responsibility as a Senator. A Senator is not supposed to be a rubber stamp for the Executive Branch.

1:28 AM  
Blogger Ruby Legs said...

couldn't agree more,

9:15 AM  
Blogger Sam Durso said...

RE: the Second Coming,

in 1917, good old William Butler created a cyclical religious-philosophical system based on bi-polar opposition that he eventually set down in a curious little book called, perhaps tellingly, A Vision. You can read about it here:

The famous poem you quote from I think expresses Yeats' very real belief that the coming of the Christ signals a future coming of an Anti-Christ, and perhaps even draws a connection with the creation of the Sphinx before it. Those theosophists, like our own town's Madame Blavatsky (of White Dog fame), really dug the Egyptian mysticism.

Your Santorum/Churchill comparison is compelling, the Santorum/Anti-Christ is perhaps more so. Maybe in the whirling gyre of opposition that is American politics, we can call Rick the antithesis of some failed senator of the left who dreamed White House dreams, maybe the anti-Frank Church(?).

10:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Rick loses in Nov, wanna bet that Cheney becomes new sec of defense and Rick becomes VP?

10:20 AM  
Anonymous GettysBLOG said...

Obliviously most of your readers, and you TF, just do not understand the meaning of Islamofascism.

Historically, the movement started in the 1930s when the Nazi's began courting the Arabs for their oil, and their anti Jewish, anti-British and anti-French sentiments.

The Arabs embraced National Socialism and Fascism for the anti-Jewish, anti-British and anti-French stance that it took, and incorporated it into a Pan-Arabic political movement, one product of which is now on trial in Iraq for crimes against humanity.

You all have too easily forgotten the lessons of WW II, and not bothered to learn that the legacy of Adolf Hitler lives on in the Arab world.

Worse, you have neglected one of the prime lessons of 9/11: fight them over there or we will fight them here.

Fighting them is not really our choice, but merely a response to their actions. They do indeed want to kill us all.

Who are they? They are the radical/extremist muslims who have embraced the Fascism and Nazism of the 1930s because it calls for the eradication of the Jews, and the repudiation of colonial type claims by the West in throughout the Arab world.

Who are they not? They are not the bulk of the islamic world.

It is all too easy to sit back in ignorance and take pot shots at people who are operating with full knowledge of the facts.

All too easy, and all too foolish.

Ferrick, you should have known better. You fling the term Islamofascist around like its an epithet, using it to cast asperions of fear-mongering by RS.

You should be afraid. There is much to fear from the Islamofascists.

10:55 AM  
Anonymous GettysBLOG said...

What's the matter Ferrick? Can't take a little legitimate info?

4:22 PM  
Blogger Jimmy the Saint said...

Anon 10:20,
If Santorum loses? Why would Santorum be made VP? If Dems win back control of the Senate, there is no way Cheney will go anywhere. I hope your post was meant as a joke.

4:16 PM  
Blogger orshouldI said...

A poignant article. Given the history of politics in our country, I think we should always be wary of the one who may hide his or her ambitions behind a mask of superior or righteous indignation. Santorum is McCarthy with less furor but with restrained pomposity.

3:18 PM  

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