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No saint this Santorum

It was deep winter in 2007 and I was in New Jersey, in the suburban swathes of New York City, covering a story on an election featuring a controversial right wing leader. But this had nothing to with an American conservative. Anirudh Bhattacharyya writes.

india Updated: Feb 24, 2012 23:36 IST
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
HT columns

It was deep winter in 2007 and I was in New Jersey, in the suburban swathes of New York City, covering a story on an election featuring a controversial right wing leader. But this had nothing to with an American conservative.

Instead, this was Narendra Modi Central, as a collective of non-resident Gujaratis were campaigning online for the Gujarat chief minister’s re-election.

On the drive to the New Jersey Transit station in Edison, I entered into conversation with one Modi supporter, who also happened to be a Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America office-bearer, about who he would favour in the 2008 US presidential elections.

His response was categorical: “Hillary Clinton”. I was surprised since she was exactly the sort of liberal whom right-of-centre types supposedly despised. Not really. The VHP official explained he was actually far more wary of the extreme Christianism of some in the Republican Party.

That may sound surreal but American social conservatives don’t just manage to lose their fellow travellers of other faiths along the way, but also moderates and independents. Their poster boy for 2012 is former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum, who is currently enjoying a sudden surge in support, as presumed nominee Mitt Romney’s passion deficit becomes more telling.

Santorum is the prince of sanctimony. Though he claims he can deliver Pennsylvania, a swing state, for the Republicans in November, there’s the inconvenient fact that he lost his home state by a stunning 18% margin in 2006, in the last election he contested.

If you’re looking for biographical details on Santorum, his campaign will probably want to steer you off Google. His opposition to homosexual acts has drawn return fire from activists who keyword bombed the search engine into delivering a scatological synonym as the top result when you use Santorum’s name.

In a 2003 interview, Santorum expressed his displeasure with gay marriage, placing it in the context of paedophilia, even bestiality. A flustered interviewer told Santorum then: “I’m sorry. I didn’t think I was going to talk about ‘man on dog’ with a United States senator. It’s sort of freaking me out.”

He isn’t even particularly fond of contraception, as he once told an interviewer: “It’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Santorum wants that licence revoked.

One of Santorum’s financiers made a terrible joke about women using aspirin as a contraceptive in his time. Perhaps that’s the reason why the majority of Republican candidates for president this year have such extensive broods. Santorum has seven children, Romney five, another contender Ron Paul also has five, while among those who dropped out Michele Bachmann has five kids and 23 foster children while Jon Huntsman has seven including two who were adopted (one from India).

Santorum is the sort of guy who believed that intelligent design was a “legitimate scientific theory” and is only a recent convert to the church of evolution. He believes that America is threatened by Iran and Satan, not necessarily in that order.

He’s also an Earmarxist. As a senator, he would tack on funds for select ventures in his home state to legislation, thus also making him the prince of inflated bills. In Santorum’s case, some of them were really pet projects. Like the one where he requisitioned federal funds for a polar bear exhibit at the Pittsburgh Zoo.

Santorum’s campaign is currently defying gravity but that boomlet will expire. Romney’s machine will ground him. After all, the Romney campaign motto is: Have mud, will sling. Also, if no mud, add water to fertile soil, and stir: Voila! Mud, delivered fresh.

In the process, what you get is a muddied polity and muddled voters. The Republican base appears to be suffering from a form of schizophrenia that can only be cured through a lobotomy.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama’s approval numbers keep rising. And his campaign staff can grab the popcorn and snigger at the antics across the aisle.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years

The views expressed by the author are personal