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The Reason Rick Santorum Downplays His Illinois Ties

Letter to the Editor.

The Illinois Republican primary should have a been a triumphant homecoming of sorts for the Santorum for President campaign. After all, the former Pennsylvania Senator briefly attended and graduated from Mundelein’s Carmel Catholic High School in north suburban Lake County. His chief Illinois backer is Al Salvi, a former state representative and failed U.S. Senate candidate who is not only a fellow Carmel graduate, but whose family’s wealthy trial lawyer fortune paid for the Carmel gymnasium that bears the Salvi name. 

Santorum “supporters” created a “Carmel High School for Santorum” Facebook page, (apparently moderated by Salvi family members) that touts Santorum as model Carmel graduate who “embodies everything that true practicing Catholics believe.”  And, Santorum’s overt expressions of faith supposedly offer great appeal to the Chicago area’s heavily Catholic electorate.

Yet Santorum is avoiding the Salvi athletic center, the city of Mundelein and all of Lake County, which is home to one of the largest concentrations of GOP voters in the state.  Instead, he chose to campaign in suburban Cook County at Christian Liberty Academy, which is an evangelical fundamentalist Christian school founded on such values as a literal interpretation of the Bible, adherence to “God’s law” over man’s and outright opposition to all public education.

Santorum’s avoidance of the very Catholics who the media insist are his natural political base in the very region where they should be most amenable to his message suggests Santorum knows what many Catholics and certainly what many members of the Carmel community think of him and his campaign.

Carmel High School is as a college preparatory school that “fosters respect for diversity, mutual growth and development,” and is part of the Catholic Church’s centuries-long commitment to the pursuit of knowledge. Listening to Rick Santorum, one would think he’s the product of some shady institution created by a televangelist during the age of disco to provide an academic pretense for challenging scientific consensus and reversing decades of social progress.

Santorum has embarrassingly cast himself as a vociferous defender of “Intelligent Design.” He pushed legislation instructing teachers to downplay evolution and teach that specific brand of creationism, and bragged how he angered the Biology Teachers Association and sparked years of conflict over the issue in schools across the country. Carmel has a nationally-recognized academic program, and 25% of students pursue science and engineering careers. They know about evolution – and that the Catholic Church rejects “Intelligent Design,” has supported evolution for more than 50 years and decries the use of the Bible as a source of scientific knowledge.

Equally inexplicable are Santorum’s claim that “Satan” has infiltrated the university system and his attack on President Obama as a “snob” for reasonably suggesting that all high school graduates further their education by at least one year. “I understand why Barack Obama wants to send every kid to college,” Santorum said, “because of their indoctrination mills, absolutely." 99% of Carmel graduates attend college, apparently all doomed to become a bunch of elitists brainwashed by the devil.

Santorum defended a TV preacher who described Islam as “evil,” calling his statement “reasonable,indulged birtherism at a campaign event and exploited racial stereotypes by saying he didn’t “want to make black people's lives better by giving them somebody else's money.” This typical Santorum behavior hardly reflects Carmel’s values of respect for self and others – values based in Catholic social teaching, which “calls us to overcome barriers of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, economic status, and nationality.”

Santorum is a proud nemesis of church-state separation, and where it appeals to the Republican base, he champions his religious values fiercely and unapologetically – railing against abortion, contraception and gay marriage with more apocalyptic condemnation than most will ever hear at mass.   But it is unimaginable that Santorum would ever publicly espouse such indivisible Catholic principles as economic justice, prioritizing the needs of the poor and respect for the global community – particularly where the Church explicitly calls for government intervention in the free market.  Instead, he artfully promotes right-wing fundamentalist notions opposed by the Church and that he definitely never studied at Carmel.  The media call Santorum an “evangelical Catholic,” which is simply a misleading euphemism that makes his political pandering appear virtuous.

Carmel students learn values that serve as a foundation for how they live, not as a guidebook for demeaning others and certainly not as a blueprint for remaking government. They are encouraged to think independently and respect cultural and religious diversity. How graduates apply their values as adults in a pluralistic society is a responsibility each confronts individually, and they develop the same political ideologies and opinions on controversial issues as most Americans – including forming their own views on the proper roles for government and religion in social and economic matters.

All of this is not to characterize Santorum as a “bad Catholic” and certainly not to challenge the way he has personally lived his faith, which in some respects is admirable. Rather, the bottom line is that Rick Santorum, the politician, has constructed his own independent theology, piecing together the most electorally beneficial elements of Catholicism, ignoring or deriding its other tenets and shrouding it all in rhetoric that frequently runs counter to the academic rigor and values central to the Carmel High School experience.

Rick Santorum lost the Catholic vote in nearly every primary, perhaps because Catholics recognize his divisive anti-intellectual ranting as antithetical to their own religion. (Why the media believe Catholic voters would instinctively support a Catholic candidate who campaigns as a fundamentalist is an open question.) Rick Santorum won’t target Catholic voters in Illinois because he knows they see through him.  And he won’t go anywhere near Carmel High School because he knows that so many in the larger Carmel community view him not as a point of pride, but as a high-profile embarrassment.

Brian Herman is a communication strategist for political, nonprofit and corporate clients. He was Communications Director for Dan Onorato’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign and External Affairs Director at Media Matters for America, as well as Deputy Campaign Manager for ex-Rep. Melissa Bean’s (D-IL) 2004 campaign and Communications Director/Senior Policy Advisor for her Congressional office. He grew up in Lake County, Illinois, graduated from Carmel Catholic High School and earned his bachelor’s degree from Columbia College in Chicago.

steve shay March 22, 2012 at 09:57 PM
Bucephalus- Maybe that's because John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights does not have chocolate like Hershey High School in Pennsylvania.
Donny March 31, 2012 at 06:36 PM
The only real change canidates out there are Paul, Santorum, Gingrich. Obama and Romney are one in the same, globalist, big government, parasites.
steve shay March 31, 2012 at 06:41 PM
Donny, Yes, but the delegates are adding up and Romney will win, and unfortunately no one qualified is on the Democratic ticket.
steve shay March 31, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Bucephalus, Unlike Lake County, Santorum had a shot at Puerto Rico but then made that goof with his "English-prefered" statement. That cost him Puerto Rico.
Donny March 31, 2012 at 11:52 PM
This Libertarian Conservative will be voting for Obama in Nobember.

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