Goodbye, Rick Santorum - we miss having you to kick around

Sat, Apr 14, 2012, 01:00

The former presidential candidate’s withdrawal is bad news for angry liberals everywhere

WHEN, IN 1962, an already infamous American politician told the press, “you won’t have Nixon to kick around any more”, representatives of the liberal media must have felt genuine surges of regret. The future president, then withdrawing from a run for governor of California, was correct in his implication that the media greatly savoured using him as a punch bag. The hacks needn’t have worried. Richard Nixon was back in action before the end of the decade.

Tell me Rick Santorum hasn’t gone away. Elections are always at their most invigorating when a genuine hate figure stalks the hustings. Plasma-drinking, Bible-bashing creationists have a great deal to look forwards to this autumn. True, they’ve lost their obergruppenführer, but they still get to run against a baby-killing, atheistic, Muslim communist who was born in Kabul.

Meanwhile, liberals – few as enthusiastic about Obama as they once were – are stuck with the depressingly unthreatening Mitt Romney as a stand-in for Mephistopheles. If my enemy’s enemy is truly my friend then the vegetarians of Brooklyn Heights and the recyclers of Portland, Oregon, have surely encountered the best mate they ever had.

Did you get the impression that the Thatcherites hated Edward Heath more than they despised Michael Foot? Forget about it. The hard right despises Mitt Romney with a passion that borders on the psychotic. He invented Obamacare. He’s the wrong sort of Christian. He doesn’t look comfortable in a baseball cap. You know the sort of thing.

Rick Santorum was the type of guy you could really get worked up about. The staunch Catholic disapproves of contraception. “It’s not okay. It’s a licence to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be,” the candidate mused. He called Obama a snob for suggesting that every American should have the chance to attend college. Do you want more? Here’s a nice quote on same-sex marriage: “I love my children. I love my friends, my brother. Heck, I even love my mother-in-law. Should we call these relationships marriage, too?”

It’s not exactly true to say that he likened homosexuality to bestiality, but, by corralling the two practices in the same paragraph, he invited the comparison to be made. And we haven’t yet got round to his predilection for absurd tank tops.

Heck, even his fellow Roman Catholics found the Rick shtick a little hard to take. Adherents of that faith tend to be a little more flexible in their interpretation of doctrine – heck, the former Joseph Ratzinger is less hardline than Rick – and he consistently lost to Romney among his co-religionists.

His withdrawal (not the first time he’s done that, har har!) is terrible news for angry liberals everywhere. Who are we going to misrepresent and misinterpret now? Whose effigy are we going to immolate at the winter solstice?

Now, I don’t want to go all soft on Santorum. Hats are doffed to the gay activists who managed to make his surname a neologism for the damp residue that remains after a particular sexual practice has taken place. (Look it up yourself. I can’t be bothered to reply sarcastically to the complaints a fuller definition would trigger.) The chap who said Santorum had the finest mind of the 13th century deserves some sort of prize for joke disinterment.

But there is something a little suspect about the relish we decent people bring to our evisceration of the latest American maniac. Look, this column is showing the way. I’ve called Rick Santorum a “maniac”. He’s not that. He’s wrong, but he’s not actually insane.

There is an aura of self-satisfaction to the massed attacks on politicians from the Santorum tendency. By asserting their revulsion at the enemy’s policies, the commentators not-too-subtly highlight their own supposed moral superiority. Any attack, however ludicrous, seems justified. Among the most absurd moments of the Santorum campaign arrived when, while stumbling for the right word while talking about Obama, Rick coughed up a half syllable that – despite not grammatically fitting the bill – was taken to be an embryonic version of the n-word. The accusation was clearly preposterous. But that did not stop various respectable liberals from repeating it.

One should also worry a little at the way the Santorums of the world – like the Bushes and the Perrys – allow smug, desert boot-wearing European wiseacres (people like me in other words) to make crass generalisations about the geographical and sociological midlands of the United States. Nothing pleases us more than writing columns portraying the citizens of Peoria as mule-worshipping illiterates. To roll your eyes at Santorum is to roll your eyes at a mass of varied Americans – some ghastly, many decent – whose views you don’t happen to share.

Where does this get us? Nowhere really. There is a degree of snobbery in the Santorum baiting. But I genuinely do miss not having him to kick around anymore.