Saturday, March 3, 2012

Santorum’s Shame - Our Shame

As if it were not bad enough having to listen to Rush Limbaugh call a woman asking for birth control as part of her health care a slut, and then adding that she should film her sex acts so the rest of us could watch…  After watching Planned Parenthood, the agency that arguably does more good than any other to maintain the health of poor women, get smeared day after day as a social evil…  Today comes the news that if Rick Santorum becomes president, he intends to work to dissolve all existing marriages between persons of the same sex.  Not just join the effort to slow down the acceptance of such relationships as one state after another is added to the ranks of states with full marriage equity.  But actually to remove the standing of 131,000 gay American couples as committed to each other for life. 

Santorum maintains he is simply following his conscience and being true to his principles as a Roman Catholic American.

At the heart of any ethical system is the struggle between justice and mercy.   On the one hand, no one can live life well outside of the rule of law that justice represents.  And neither would one want to live in a world without compassion, where nobody ever bent the rules to adjust to circumstances.  The eternal tug-of-war between reason and principled behavior on the one hand and impulsive acts of kindness and compassion on the other can never be resolved.  Having constantly to call the shots between head and heart is what makes living not a science, but an art.

My first thought was to see this as an example of what happens when balance is lost and you get justice without mercy.  I found myself wondering where Santorum’s sense of decency and compassion was.  But then I realized the real problem was that he is wrong on both counts.  Not only is he lacking in compassion.  He’s wrong on principle.

Moral principles can be strong and widely accepted.  They can also be ill-conceived and harmful in the long run.   Principles are made by us, no matter how much we attribute them to some deity, and therefore somewhat arbitrary.  To be strong moral principles, they must have universal appeal and they must grow out of broad human experience.

What Santorum thinks he is doing here is living according to principles.  He knows what’s right, he insists, and he seeks to do the right thing.  His religion tells him men should not marry other men, or women other women, and because they actually have done that in his country, he wants to right the wrong.  But his principles are narrow, provincial principles – the very antithesis of universal principles.

Santorum, for all his good intentions, is making the mistake all zealots make.  They plough on ahead without regard to those around them.  Santorum has evidently never taken the time or made the effort to look his fellow Americans in the eye, to walk in their shoes, to experience life as they live it.  If he had, he would see what it is like for 262,000 Americans living today in same-sex marriages.  And their children.  And their parents, their siblings, their friends, their colleagues – all the millions of Americans affected by these marriages, and the millions more who will some day engage in these marriages.  And at what it would do to most of these people to be told all of a sudden that their marriage is no longer valid.  Kids, your daddies were wrong to tell you you were a real family.  They were only pretending you are a real family.

Santorum’s principles, he maintains, are those of his church.   With an ignorance of history and government that staggers the imagination, he makes the case not only that Roman Catholic principles should be the law of the land, but that only his particular Roman Catholic principles, which are not shared by the majority of his American co-religionists, should apply.

Never mind that he is so out of step with his fellow Americans that there is little chance they would follow him into this dark place.  The realization that a man we are putting forward as a candidate for President of the United States is making such a proposal leaves you weak at the knees and sick in the gut.

It is a new low in the way Americans go about their business. 

Ignorant people can be found at all levels of government.  But it will take a very long time to shake the embarrassment that we have allowed a man of Santorum’s ilk to get as far as he has, and that so many Americans are still lining up behind him to support his bid to be leader of what we call the free world.

A new low.  A real shame.

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