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Nobody Expects The Spanish Inqusition! The New Yorker’s George Packer Collides With The New York Times’ Bill Keller Over Rick Santorum

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Monty Python's Spanish inquisition
(Bill Keller, George Packer and Charles Blow)

First, reread this legendarily stupid column by former New York Times editor-in-chief Bill Keller from August 26 of last year. In it, Bill Keller demands that the GOP candidates be quizzed about religion, that we “get over our scruples” about asking candidates about the particulars of their religious beliefs. Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition, especially not in Manhattan’s tonier districts, and Keller was much and rightly mocked for his Lefty Boy”s Big Book Of Incendiary Questions.

After you have reread his piece, listen to Keller this morning asserting that Santorum, who has been talking about freedom of religion, wants to impose a sort of Christian Sharia on the country. Santorum has been responding to questions about religion in the public square and getting zapped for it, but given Keller’s August piece, you think he might have had the decency to point out that he and others on the Left had been demanding such conversations on such subjects for months. Now that Senator Santorum has had some, Keller quite duplicitously condemns Santorum as a Wahhabist for doing so.

Then read the New Yorker’s George Packer as he displays a marvelous ignorance of not only the First Amendment’s design and interpretation –he seems to have wholly missed the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses and to confuse them with the phrase “Separation of Church and State”– but he also seems ignorant of the fact that Mr. Keller and many on the left want all the presidential candidates on the right to face some sort of lefty Board of Inquiry on the articles of their religion. Mr. Packer no doubt spent a half hour on Wikipedia this morning coming up with his Madison and Jefferson references, but he might have been better served by reading the 9-0 opinion issued by the Supreme Court in Hosanna Tabor authored by Chief Justice Roberts earlier this year.

Rick Santorum has been making an argument about (1) the president’s attack on the Roman Catholic Church which violates the Free Exercise clause much as did the EEOC’s ruling at issue in Hosanna Tabor and (2) the proper role of religious faith in the public square, which is robust and enduring, and which is under assault by the secular absolutists that dominate elite media.

To advance their cause, and thus the re-election chances of the president they love, Mr. Keller and Mr. Packer are quite willing to throw overboard all elementary understanding of what freedom of religion means and to distort not just Santorum’s arguments and ignore their own, but also to stoke the fires of religious bigotry as a means to those ends. A kind of Christian Sharia law? That is akin to accusing Mr. Keller of the sort of crimes against people that would slanderous per se.
(Mr. Keller and Mr. Packer are not alone in their contributions to stoking the fires of religious bigotry, but the sad Charles Blow, also of the New York Times, is like the weak hitting shortstop of the team who bats ninth and is staring at a demotion to Triple A unless he picks up his game. Thus Mr. Blow has made yet another contribution to his very long list of inanities this very morning, adding to his established reputation for bigotry and wild intemperance on tweet feed and blog the additional credential of bigotry on television by calling Santorum “crazy.” Blow has the makings of a classic five-tool hater if we can only get him on the radio and the big screen. No doubt he is really hoping that Mr. Keller or Mr. Packer, the Ruth and Gehrig of religious intolerance, notice him and ask him along for a drink.)

Here’s the problem. The Left really doesn’t know what it wants except to hate people of faith who refer to that faith as the wellspring of their values. The vast mob of Manhattan-Beltway media elites gathering to kill the beast that is Rick Santorum, the affable father of seven and devout old-school liberal on matters of faith, is something to behold. He really does, as Mr. Blow put it, “scare the hell” out of them. Or perhaps just makes them aware of an argument they’d rather just as soon forget about the centrality of faith to the republic’s history and good functioning, along with their certainty that the Soviet Union would never crumble and that President Obama could get the economy moving again.

I open the show with Senator Santorum today and we will talk about Keller and Packer, though not Mr. Blow. Mr. Blow doesn’t warrant a response because he has almost no audience. The other two, unfortunately for the cause of religious tolerance, do. The transcript of my interview will be posted here later:

The Santorum transcript:

HH: I begin today’s broadcast with former United States Senator Rick Santorum, www.ricksantorum.com. Senator, how are you feeling about Michigan and Arizona today?

RS: You know, we feel great. We’ve worked really hard here in Michigan, and we’re going to continue to scrap to the very end. And we feel like we’ve got some momentum on our side. Obviously, it’s a tough state. I mean, it’s Governor Romney’s home state. He’s got a lot of tradition on his side, and a lot of money on his side here, too, and the establishment Republican organization. But you know, we’ve got, we’re an insurgent campaign, we’ve been it from the very beginning, and we feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum going into these last few hours of the campaign.

HH: Of course, a week from now, you’re going to my home state of Ohio. Can we get you to pander a little bit and say maybe Go Browns, beat the Steelers, or anything like that?

RS: You know what? Over my dead body.

HH: (laughing)

RS: That’s one of the things I will absolutely draw the line on. [# More #]

HH: Okay.

RS: So…thankfully, there are some Steelers fans down in Southeastern Ohio, so we’ve got some folks on our side on that one.

HH: Yeah, but we might have literacy tests they can’t get around. All right…

RS: Ooh, wait a minute.

HH: All right, Senator, serious stuff now. The former editor, this is very serious stuff, actually, the former editor of the New York Times [Rick Keller] went on Morning Joe today, and this is what he said about Rick Santorum.

RK: Remember earlier in the campaign when Newt Gingrich was worrying everybody about Sharia law? You know, the Muslims were going to impose Sharia law in America? Sometimes, Santorum sounds like he’s creeping up on a kind of Christian version of Sharia law.

HH: A Christian version of Sharia law, Rick Santorum, how do you respond to that? And the clip’s over at www.breitbart.tv if anyone wants to see the whole exchange.

RS: This is the intolerance of the left. If you have religious beliefs that they don’t believe in, then they marginalize you. You’ve got to shut up about it. You can’t talk about those things. And if you do, we’re going to marginalize you, and by the way, on President Obama, if you have religious beliefs we don’t agree with, we’re going to dictate to you that you have to change those and conform to what the government thinks is your right. I think people of all religious beliefs have a right to go out and voice their concerns about public policy, and express those in the public square, and it’s okay. The idea that my religious beliefs disqualify me now from holding public life is exactly the opposite of what our Constitution laid out and what the 1st Amendment is. If you look at my track record, we’ve had a very strong and consistent record of standing up for conservative principles that made America great and not taking every religious item that one religion or another teaches and trying to put it into law. Just the opposite. We want a very tolerant and open society that allows people of different points of view to be able to express those, and to be able to live their lives in conformity with them.

HH: Senator, how does, you know, Keller is fairly well known for being sort of infamously intolerant of religion. He wrote a column in August of last year calling for his version of the Spanish Inquisition on all the Republican candidates, you know, defend Mormonism to Romney and Huntsman, and have you defend Catholicism, and Michele Bachmann fundamental Evangelicalism. And this is…the George Packer fellow over at The New Yorker, today he wrote about you, a similar kind of full-frontal assault on your faith. Is this what we’re in for? In fact, he wrote, “America needs that our president’s religious views remain their own private affairs, and Rick Santorum and his party can’t impose dominion of one narrow, sectarian, Bible-based idea of the public good over a vast pluralist, heterodox, freedom-loving democracy.” So on the one hand, you’ve got Keller saying let’s have the inquisition. On the other hand, you’ve got Packer saying they want, and Keller saying this morning, they want Sharia of some sort. How in the world do you thread this needle?

RS: Well, it’s not a needle to thread. It’s support the founders’ vision and the freedom of religion that we have in this country, and support the idea of tolerance of religious beliefs, that in fact people can make their arguments about what the laws of this country can be, and that we can have a debate and discussion about it and votes on it. And that’s fine. But you know, the idea that to ascribe every religious belief, I’m not going to try to impose on America that Jesus rose from the dead and put that into law. I mean, this is the kind of silliness that the left engages in, that somehow or another because you have certain, you’re a person of faith that you’re going to take every article of faith and mandate that the country believes that? That’s silly. That’s exactly the opposite. It’s to allow people the opportunity to believe those things. And yes, if they’re moral teachings of the Church, then you know, you can believe those, too. Some of them, like for example, on the issue of abortion, you may have moral beliefs about that, but you know what? My reason for believing in abortion as a wrong is not because of my faith teaching. It’s because of science and reason that says that all life begins at conception. That’s a fact. It’s not a religious belief. It’s a scientific fact. And the case that I make in the public square is not a religious case. The case I make in the public square is a scientific and factual case. That is exactly what can and should be the case, and is what I have done in my political career.

HH: Now Packer, I want to know if you think they are just ignorant, or if they are purposefully deceptive, the Keller-Packer axis. Today, Packer wrote, “Santorum says he’s a Constitutionalist, and then he makes a skip. He says Jefferson wrote, and Madison worked to pass, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s bill for establishing religious freedom. And he goes on, presumably, all of this originalist nonsense makes Rick Santorum heave, gag, vomit and puke.” And you and I both know, Senator, that’s got nothing to do with the argument. It absolutely, it’s inane. It’s just stupid, that kind of an argument. But do they really believe it? Or do they make it with the intention of deceiving, knowing it to be false?

RS: I think it’s pure deception. They can’t possibly, with any reason…I mean, go back and read my speech that I gave a year and a half ago in Houston when I talked about the issue of faith in the public square. I mean, that was out there. That was critiqued by many on the left, in fact, critiqued, I would argue, favorably by many on the left as a proper understanding of the role of faith in public life. And yet now, all of a sudden, because I’ve got an opportunity to do well and maybe be the nominee of the party, you’re going to have to paint me as a bogeyman, and someone who’s trying to be a mullah or a theocrat. This is standard fare for the left, that they don’t tolerate people who have different opinions than theirs, and therefore, they have to create caricatures to be able to discredit not just their opinions, but who these people are that are offering these opinions.

HH: And one last question on this subject. Do you think they understand what the Free Exercise Clause means? They’re quick to quote Madison and Jefferson, they don’t understand the interplay of the Constitutional framework and the 1st Amendment clauses with those. But do you think they have any idea what the Free Exercise Clause means?

RS: I think if you asked them, they really believe that the words separation of church and state are in the Constitution, and that the Free Exercise of Religion Clause doesn’t exist. I can tell you, I’ve talked to a lot of students who are educated at these colleges and universities who came to meet with me, and met with me when I was in the Senate, and they believe that. They believe that separation of church and state was in the Constitution, and that the Free Exercise Clause was, did not exist. That’s what they’re taught, that somehow or another, that people, that faith and people of faith have no right to participate in public affairs from the point of view of faith, and that in fact, the separation of church and state is one way, that is people of faith can’t participate in the public square, but the government can impose their values on religion. And that is turning the 1st Amendment right on its head.

HH: Yeah, someday, I would love to see a Keller or a Packer sit down for a debate with somebody who actually knew, like you, or like me, what these clauses mean, and how Madison and Jefferson…they just will never do it. They never go in harm’s way of finding themselves…

RS: No, I mean, as you know, the 1st Amendment, what…Madison referred to that as the perfect remedy, which is allowing everybody in, allowing people who disagree, allowing Keller and Robinson and all these people in with Santorum and others, and let’s have a debate not on whether someone’s a theocrat. Let’s have a debate on the substance of the issues at hand. Let’s not just say because someone happens to be a person of faith and they hold those opinions, they need to come to the public square not with faith reasons, because if they do, then you know, they’re appealing to a very narrow group. They have to come with arguments as to why this is good for society, why this is right for society. That’s what the idea was all about. What your motivations are really don’t matter. It’s what your arguments are as to whether you can bring about a consensus for people to adopt your positions. That’s what the 1st Amendment is all about. That’s what this freedom of religion is all about…

HH: Okay, Senator….

RS: …from the standpoint of public policy

HH: Last question, and I’ve got to get it in with a minute. I am a proud graduate of John F. Kennedy High School. I’m a Roman Catholic Irish kid from Northeastern Ohio. And I did not hear what you said about Kennedy’s speech. But how do you esteem Jack Kennedy?

RS: Oh, I think look, when I grew up, there were three pictures on my grandparents’ wall. It was Jesus, the Pope and Jack Kennedy. And he blazed the trail for Catholic politicians, and did so. And by the way, a lot of his speech in Houston was, were things that were absolutely right on. But there were several things, and very unfortunately, very important things, that were really wrong. And that’s why I felt the need fifty years later to go back and esteem him for what he did, which is to stand up for letting people know that this wasn’t going to be a papist that was going to run the country, or the Catholic Church and some cabal, which is everything he needed to do. But his understanding of the importance of faith in the public square was extreme in my opinion, and that’s what we tried to correct, that part of the speech.

HH: Senator Rick Santorum, always a pleasure, www.ricksantorum.com.

End of interview.

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