Rick Santorum: JFK Speech "Makes Me Want to Throw Up"

In an astonishing performance yesterday on ABC News' "This Week With George Stephanopoulos", Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum said that an iconic speech given by the late President John F. Kennedy on the role of religion in politics "makes me want to throw up."

Before 1961, the United States had never had a Roman Catholic president. During the 1960 presidential campaign, Kennedy's Catholicism raised suspicions that he would be taking orders from the pope -- or at least that was the trope passed around by his detractors. In a famous speech before an assemblage of Baptist pastors in Houston, Kennedy sought to assure Protestant America that he would do no such thing, saying:

I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic prelate would tell the president -- should he be Catholic -- how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference, and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him, or the people who might elect him.

Santorum finds Kennedy's assertion, rooted in the First Amendment, nauseating. Yesterday, he told Stephanopoulos:

To say that people of faith have no role in the public square?  You bet that makes you throw up.  What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? 

That makes me throw up and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can’t come to the public square and argue against it, but now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square.

Of course, that Kennedy never said that "people of faith" "can't come into the public square and argue..." matters not in the fact-free universe in which the Republican base dwells. 

Statements like these may make Santorum appear stupid, but he's actually playing a pretty savvy game of politics. He knows that the people he's talking to are not likely to Google up Kennedy's speech to see what the late president actually said.

I have little doubt that Kennedy's speech did actually give Santorum a case of agita, but less for JFK's rather traditional reading of the First Amendment than for this:

I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equals, where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind, and where Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral levels, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood.

As I reported, at least one part of JFK's vision has come to pass: there is no long a "Catholic vote," at least not as a bloc that the bishops can direct. And that must give Santorum a bit of indigestion since, if there ever was a candidate who embodies the bishops' dream of temporal rule in America, it's the anti-birth-control, anti-abortion, anti-gay Rick Santorum.

Watch John F. Kennedy's 1960 speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association.

Watch G.O.P. presidential hopeful Rick Santorum describe what about Kennedy's speech makes him "want to throw up."

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AlterNet / By Adele M. Stan

Posted at February 27, 2012, 3:56am

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