When I was about eight or nine years old I decided to cook dinner for my parents. We had a really nice, old school, gas oven. At the time, I had also watched many hours of Julia Child and was deep (or so I thought) into the study of the culinary arts. My palate was ready. I knew that I could make mom and dad a nice meal.
Subsequently, I took some of my allowance money and went to the local butcher. There I spent about thirty or so dollars on ingredients for stuffed peppers. I got the best cuts of ground beef, peppers, spices, and other necessary items. I cooked all day long. I stuffed the peppers generously, used some orange sewing string to secure the pepper tops back on, and cooked them at a high heat in the oven.
I was proud of the result. For thirty dollars--1980s bucks, a not insignificant amount of money at the time--I made a meal that could have been far better prepared for about 5 or so dollars. My mom praised me. My father, who was quite good in the kitchen (as his father was a cook on a tramp steamer), kindly suggested that I needed some breadcrumbs and olive oil to "wet" the dish and bind it together. They ate it. Smiled. And encouraged me to keep trying. In reality, my dinner was horrible. My parents really loved me: they ate this putrid dinner without complaint.
Rick Santorum's speech to his supporters on Super Tuesday was the equivalent of my childhood effort to cook for my parents. His speech was full of red meat for the Tea Party GOP base; it was comfort food for his public. However, Santorum's feast was gag worthy to those of us with a more refined palate.
Working through the entirety of Rick Santorum's speech (and Romney's was pretty close in its level of offensive rhetoric as well) is unnecessary. In all, Santorum's Super Tuesday address to his supplicants was a ham-fisted job that hit all of the obligatory Culture War talking points: Obama is a usurper; the United States is under siege by the President; "small town," "white" America is the "real America"; the strong wall that is the separation of church and state is fictitious, and the Constitution, the framers, and the United States are divinely inspired. Even allowing for these rhetorical flourishes, Santorum offered one utterance that is particularly worth highlighting:
But the greatest generation was the greatest generation not because they had greater -- greater character or courage or perseverance than those of us today. The greatest generation was great because, when freedom was at stake, they rose to meet the call to defend this country.This passage reveals the deepest sentiments felt by the Tea Party GOP and the reactionary Right in the Age of Obama. The use of the words "courage" and "courageous" are pregnant with meaning. Courage implies risk, harm, the moral and ethical high ground, as well as danger. In this speech, Rick Santorum is signaling that the simple act of handing out fliers, calling potential voters, or canvasing a neighborhood with posters, puts his boosters in existential peril. Normal politics is made a crusade because the Obama administration are thugs.
We’re at a time in this country when freedom is at stake and you are all blessed, as I am, to be here at a time when your country needs you, to be here at a time, like the original founders of this country, who signed that Declaration of Independence, to be here at a time when freedom was at stake and people were willing to go out and do heroic and courageous things to win that victory.
Moreover, the most risk free political actions--Santorum's supporters are in bed with Power and not resisting it--are elevated to the heights of martyrdom. For outsiders looking in, this premise is absurd; for those who support Santorum, are Tea Party types, or reactionary conservatives, this rhetoric creates community and resonates as a type of common sense. The supporters of the New Right see themselves as the equivalent of sojourners, freedom fighters, and/or as abolitionists freeing slaves. The pundit classes use the language of the "enthusiasm gap" to both summarize and obfuscate a simple idea: Santorum's Christian Nationalist conservative brigands believe that they are on the right side of history; the facts can be damned.
In their eyes, the differences between Left and Right, Democrats and Republicans, are not marginal, coincidental, or negotiable. For Santorum and his folk, defeating Barack Obama is a call to arms, one rooted in the apocalypse, and an eschatological narrative that is heavy with political and existential gravity. Quite simply, Barack Obama is the devil: he must be beaten at any cost.
Santorum's channeling of the "Greatest Generation" is integral to his brand of religion infused conservatism, nostalgia, and Right-wing American Exceptionalism. As seen in movies such as Saving Private Ryan, the notion of the Greatest Generation is a lie based upon its own self-sustaining truth, one that does not have to be subjected to critical inquiry. Many Americans accept the idea of a Greatest Generation just because it is--what "real" American could ever challenge the historical myth of those great veterans who fought the Nazis and made the world safe for democracy?
People like true lies. Why? Because they make them feel good, safe, and comfortable (and isn't feeling good the whole point of politics in an age of spectacle and illusion?)
Some basic facts about World War Two are helpful as we try to reconcile Rick Santorum's appeals with the historical record. Consider the following:
World War 2 was a global military conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945 which involved nearly all the nations of the world;
World War 2 involved approximately 50-70 million casualties worldwide on both sides of the conflict;
The Soviets lost almost 25 million military casualties;
The United States lost almost half a million people;
About 3 million or so people were killed in the death camps;
300,000 people were killed by the Japanese in Nanking;
About 2 million people were killed during the Battle of Stalingrad;
Approximately, 185,000 people were incinerated instantly, and/or either died later, from the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Does Rick Santorum really want to suggest that defeating a popularly elected American President is akin to defeating the Axis powers? What leaps of faith are necessary to sustain such a premise? And why does the mainstream media continue to give Rick Santorum and his fellow Republicans a pass for such ill founded and specious rhetoric?