The Press, American Politics & People of Faith (speech full text)
Speech presented to The Media Project's Course on Religion & Politicsin Washington, DC; August 2008
[Rick Santorum was in the House of Representatives from 1990-1994. Thereafter, he served in the U.S. Senate until 2006. He now practices law in Washington, DC, and is a fellow at the Ethics & Public Policy Center.]
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity to be here and share some thoughts with you. And actually I very much look forward to dialog and discussion and questions you might have.
Terry (Mattingly) gives a very gracious introduction, and I think what you can gather from that introduction is that I am someone who was in public life whose faith was very much, for good or bad, where I wore it on my sleeve. I didn’t deliberately do it that way. But to me, the old saying that “you can’t check your faith at the door when you go into your office” really meant something to me. You were either a person whose faith was important in every aspect of your life, or faith really wasn’t important to you.
And so when I got into the United States Senate, believe it or not, a very interesting story talked about many times to groups, of my own journey really accelerated when I came to the Senate. I came to the United States Senate, and I found God, which is not something I would not say is a common thing, but it’s more common than you might think. That leaders in the United States, particularly folks on the Republican side of the aisle – which I always term as the party of faith – you’ll find, I’m always amazed, at the number of my colleagues whose faith has deepened because of their political involvement and because of the responsibility being thrust upon them.
And so that happened to me, and as a result, I felt compelled to be much more outspoken about the role that faith played in my own public life. And as a result of that, I was labeled by the media and my opponents as a theocrat. That somehow because I dared to allow faith to influence the decisions that I made – not dictate, but certainly influence the decisions that I made – that I was somehow trying to impose a theocratic rule over the United States.
To answer Terry’s question sort of leads into that. To answer Terry’s question sort of succinctly — how the press dealt with someone like me — the answer is “horribly”. What I found overwhelmingly in the American press corps is a bunch of non-believers who don’t understand faith whatsoever. I mean, the idea of TIME Magazine naming me one of the top 25 evangelicals was sort of funny, if it wasn’t so pathetic that they don’t understand what they’re even talking about. At least (Richard John) Neuhaus, who I think would have been the only other Catholic — I think I’ve talked about this before. But he was first a Protestant. So you can at least – Neuhaus was a convert – so you might sort of peg him as an evangelical.
But the press in this country is overwhelmingly ignorant – completely ignorant – of faith. Most of the people in the press, I’ve found, have no faith themselves. And when you discuss faith, it’s as if you’re discussing voo-doo or some sort of bizarre theory that’s sort of nice if you want to go to church on Sunday and you want to do that. But it has no application to the governing of the United States because in their mind this is a very secular country that separates church and state. They have accepted the idea that faith is illegitimate in the public square.
And the idea now that you see the Democrats trying to come and talk about faith is, to me, just a charade. I don’t think it’s serious at all. I think it is purely a political calculation. I think that they know that they are doing poorly among certain voters who care about that. So they are just making a sob to them saying, “Look, we understand you. We can talk your language.” Not to say that there aren’t some who are sincere. But I’m talking overall, the Democratic Party – with the Nancy Pelosis, the Harry Reids, the Howard Deans, the folks who are orchestrating this effort – are using probably some people, who are in fact devout believers who are Democrats, as pawns in an attempt to try to get votes or at least decrease the intensity of the vote against them in certain states where they know if they don’t do that, they’re gonna have a hard time winning presidential elections or other elections.
So, to me, this issue, like many others in America, is evidence of what I see as a very great divide in American politics. And it’s on cultural grounds; it’s on religious grounds; it’s on national-security grounds. This is a country that is wrestling with its own Judeo-Christian identity. And the party of the left, which is the Democratic Party, the secular party, which is the Democratic Party, the party of Europe, which is the Democratic Party.
It was just such an affirmation of this belief to see Barack Obama in Germany. He is the party of Europe. They love him over there. Why? Because it is a very secular world. It’s a very secular culture. It’s a socialistic culture. It is exactly what Barak Obama wants to see America. It’s exactly what Howard Dean envisions for America. If you look at everything they do, they point to the journey of Western Europe as the journey they want to replicate here in America.
This is the better society. When I hear Barack Obama talk about how flawed — deeply flawed — America is and how much change is necessary, he speaks in wonderful glowing terms without getting specific. What he really wants is a more secular, government-driven, top-down, elitist culture, which is more reflective of what we’re seeing in Western Europe.
And the press is probably one step ahead of him, I would argue. I can tell you experiences I’ve had with members of the press corps that have come up to me quietly, almost whispering in my ear, and say, “I’m a believer. Don’t tell anybody. I don’t want to be outed in this country.” It is that bad. And I’m sure you’ve had lots of folks you’ve talked to here in the press corps who’ll tell you that’s not the case, who’ll tell you that the press corps here and the media here is representative of a wide swath of different viewpoints. And that faith is important to them. It’s baloney. It’s absolute baloney. The reporting does not reflect it.
And I can tell you that the people that I’ve dealt with, they have a fundamental misunderstanding and mistrust of people of faith in public life. They see them as a threat to what they see as the secular religion of America.
And so, I’m glad that you’re here and that you’re interested in this topic. It is a battle that many of us, and I think many across America – Terry talks about (the state of Pennsylvania being) Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Alabama in between – that the Alabama part of Pennsylvania, and in fact, not Philadelphia, but much of Pittsburgh, which is a socially conservative town. They see what’s going on. They see the attempts of the mainstream media. They see the attempts of Hollywood, and the elites in academia, trying to change this culture from the top down. And trying to do things, as I make the argument in my book, to break down the Church and to break down the family and to make it more dependent on the other institutions of our society, which they control, which is the media, academia and the government.
And so that is sort of the life struggle here in America. We are, in my opinion, inching ever more closely and successfully because the people who tell the story, in the mainstream media, Hollywood and academia have a lot more power right now than mom and dad at home. And churches, if you look at the where the future of America goes, and look at what children spend their time consuming, the average American kid spends 7 plus hours a day – teenagers and younger – spend 7 plus hours a day in front of some media content. Computers. Video games. Television. Movie. CD. They’re consuming media 7 plus hours a day.
They obviously, if they’re in school six hours plus a day, they’re consuming from the liberal academia, which is public schools through higher education. Contrast that with the average American kid spends 10 minutes talking with their mom or dad a day. And on average goes to church, most kids and most Americans still go to church, on average spent 10 minutes a day in church.
So compare the time the parents and the churches, which are the counter-cultural trends, versus what children are consuming from the mainstream media, which is all on the other side. And you can see that America is in the process of violent change.
And the media, particularly reporters, are part and parcel of that because they have been educated at those institutions, elitist institutions, and they are in the media, whether it’s Hollywood or whether it’s the news media, which has a very definite point of view and does not tolerate people. They are completely intolerant of people who have different points of view when it comes to faith.
If you go back 50 years, I don’t think you would find that in the mainstream media. You certainly wouldn’t find that in Hollywood. Hollywood was not a seedbed of radical thought in trying to transform the culture. The mainstream media was much more in touch with traditional American values.
Academia was never, for the last hundred years, never in touch with traditional American values. And the fact that the elites have gone to those institutions and have ended up in the newsroom and ended up in Hollywood and ended up in those places. They have sown the seeds that have are now being planted in the broader American culture.
So that’s how I see it.
Transcribed by Richard Potts, The Media Project