The High Road
Here’s a paradox for you: I am a moderate liberal and a social progressive, and thus far in the GOP race, I have been an unabashed Rick Santorum supporter. It’s not that I like any of his policies — indeed, I’m about as opposed to them as my first two self-descriptions would imply — but I know that a vote for Santorum is a vote for Barack Obama in the general election in November. Everything about Rick, from his campaign infrastructure to the words that spill out of his mouth, is fuel for the Obama reelection machine.
Whenever I find myself rooting for Rick in this poll or that primary, I can’t help but feel uncomfortable no matter how many times I tell myself that I’m doing it for the greater good. Sure, supporting the dark horse in the opposing party’s primary isn’t a new trick (conservatives voted in Democratic contests in favor of Obama in 2008, thinking he’d be the easier one to beat — oops!), but now that we Democrats are giving it a go, the hypocrisies are hitting a little closer to home.
Let’s start with the obvious. To liberals of any stripe, Rick Santorum is poison. His social views alone, which include the reinstatement of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and the restricting of abortion rights even in cases of rape, among others, are more than enough to infuriate his opponents. And yet, come the important primaries, every Democrat is Santorum’s biggest friend because the demonstrably more moderate Mitt Romney is more difficult to demonize.
But ultimately, there is no way to support Santorum and oppose his policies, even ironically. Every vote Rick garners means more attention both to the man and to his corrupted and anachronistic beliefs, even though those beliefs should by all rights be buried deep underground. At the end of the day giving a megaphone to a political pariah, even to take it away from his more dangerous competitors, still means that he gets a louder voice. Somewhere in the psychology of the presidential race, people decided that it was better to encourage and fight a caricature than it was to have intelligent discourse with an opponent.
And that’s bad news for the future of politics in this country. If both sides of a debate decide that it is easier to weed out the reasonable to make a decision more obviously good-versus-evil, then eventually each side’s candidate will mirror the other’s conception of evil. This may be an effective mechanism for selling merchandise and tickets for football games or even for scaring people into the voting booth on Election Day, but it’s not conducive to a political system built on compromise and the will of the moderate majority.
So it’s time for a reevaluation. We Democrats are very good at claiming to take the high road — we painted our candidate as above petty politics in 2008, and we decried the devious use of the filibuster by the GOP in the health care debate — but we’re not so good at actually taking it. Obama permeated the air with negative ads in 2008, the Democratic Senate made broad use of the filibuster under Bush, and, now that we have the chance, we’re making every effort to promote extreme opponents and paint even the more moderate options as such, just like the Republicans did four years ago. It’s time for the left to practice what it preaches. For the good of the country, its political soul, and its own personal satisfaction, tell Rick Santorum to sit down.
Photo by Gage Skidmore