Santorum’s Blank Slate of Culture

Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum has talked his way into any number of bone-headed corners. Sadly, many of his most notable blunders are related to his unabashed Catholicism and blind attempts to marry religion with the state. Now, Mr. Santorum has added history and culture to his more aggressive assertions, resulting in a lecture to young folks that is profoundly ignorant.

Young America’s Foundation (YAF and, as oldsters will recall it, Young Americans for Freedom), situated in Reston, Virginia, is a nucleus for promoting ultra-conservative orthodoxy, especially directed at youth. On April 23-24, YAF held one of its Standing Up for Faith and Freedom conferences at its headquarters. Like Santorum, born in Winchester, Virginia, the conference was unabashedly Catholic-oriented and studded with academics from Catholic institutions, sporting lecture topics such as “Can A Catholic Be A Socialist?”  

The topic for Santorum was labeled “The Fight for Religious Freedom.”  His record on religion and education has been noted in a long string of comments. In 2005, Santorum asserted that “What we should be teaching are the problems and holes in the theory of evolution,” without ever specifying what some of those problems and holes might be.

Santorum is the institutional voice of conservatism. . . . The former senator described the North American landscape as a kind of tabula rasa, waiting for the ingenuity and talents of settlers to convert it into a utopia in which religious freedom could flourish. But his own words are easy enough to understand or baffle, as the case may be:

We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.

Santorum is the institutional voice of conservatism appearing regularly on CNN where, again, some of his remarks draw reams of viewer criticism. At the YAF conference, he engaged in a rhapsodic and idealized vision of the origins of the United States, even to the extent of citing the racist film Birth of a Nation. It may be that he never viewed the movie but its title quite neatly fit a theme of his lecture. The audience, according to Santorum’s comments, was composed largely of young Catholic students.

The former senator described the North American landscape as a kind of tabula rasa, waiting for the ingenuity and talents of settlers to convert it into a utopia in which religious freedom could flourish. But his own words are easy enough to understand or baffle, as the case may be:

We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here. I mean, yes we have Native Americans but candidly there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.

Equally disheartening is the extent of his failure to grasp history to the extent he failed even to mention the depth and breadth of the treachery exhibited by the US in ignoring its treaties with Native Americans along with permitting outright theft of their lands.

It’s difficult to accept that such gibberish was spoken. It is also uncertain with whom or what the fight for religious freedom on the new continent was waged. With nothing on the east coast of America, what was there to fight? History records no incidents of Native Americans attacking colonists because of their religion. Notwithstanding that there was nothing here upon arrival, Santorum asserts and that colonial Europeans created a blank slate to fight for religious freedom. Other than aboriginal Native Americans, no other folks existed with whom to fight.  Easy peasy conflict.

It is unknown whether Santorum’s ignorance is genetic or nurtured. He was first elected to the Senate in 1995, a full 7 years after the Congress honored the Sioux Confederacy (Haudenosaunee) by way of a joint resolution in 1988. In part the document read:

To acknowledge the contribution of the Iroquois Confederacy of Nations to the development of the United States Constitution and to reaffirm the continuing government-to-government relationship between Indian tribes and the United States established in the Constitution.

Whereas, the original framers of the constitution, including most notably, George Washington and Benjamin Franklin, are known to have greatly admired the concepts, principles and government practices of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy; and

Whereas, the Confederation of the original thirteen colonies into one Republic was explicitly modeled upon the Iroquois Confederacy as were many of the democratic principles which were incorporated into the Constitution itself.

Perhaps Santorum entered the Senate with a tabula rasa for an intellect. Historians of New York State also credit the Iroquois with contributing to the emancipation of women arising from the 16th century culture that they managed to cultivate without European assistance. (The Haudenosaunee | New York Heritage (nyheritage.org):

When women in New York State began to organize for their rights in 1848, they took their cue from the nearby native communities. Haudenosaunee women ignited the revolutionary vision of early feminists by providing a model of freedom and agency. Euro-American women were inspired by the Native American women’s control of their bodies and property, religious voice, custody of their children, satisfying work, and absence of rape and domestic violence. Finally, they saw political equality in action, as clan mothers nominated the chiefs, held them in position, and removed them, if necessary. Everyone had a voice in decisions, women and men equally.

However, it was not sufficient for Santorum to cancel Native American culture; he offered the audience another historical explanation that flatly contradicts the congressional resolution:

… they came here, mostly from Europe, and they set up a country that was based on Judeo-Christian principles—when I say Judeo-Christian, the Mosaic Laws, 10 Commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ, the morals and teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s what our founding documents are based upon. It’s in our DNA.

However, it was not sufficient for Santorum to cancel Native American culture; he offered the audience another historical explanation that flatly contradicts the congressional resolution:

… they came here, mostly from Europe, and they set up a country that was based on Judeo-Christian principles—when I say Judeo-Christian, the Mosaic Laws, 10 Commandments and the teachings of Jesus Christ, the morals and teachings of Jesus Christ. That’s what our founding documents are based upon. It’s in our DNA.

Here again, Santorum’s view displays his failure to have vetted his historical commentary. Testimony from sworn expert witnesses in preparation for the congressional resolution recorded the fact that the Sioux Confederacy practiced freedom of religion as a tenet within the six nations that constituted the organization. That same testimony revealed the intimate familiarity of several of the Founding Fathers with Sioux political and ethnic culture.

Gobsmacking! Fortunately, but not for his audience, Santorum knows little or has a blank slate of knowledge about Native Americans. When the Twitter and email backlash followed his remarks, he offered an apology equally disingenuous:

I had no intention of minimizing or in any way devaluing Native American culture.

It’s defensible that Santorum had “no intention” because his utter lack of knowledge and political ideology informed whatever passed his lips. Now, a conference room batch of young Catholic students remains to consider his faux view of American history and culture. For better or worse, it’s in his DNA.



Categories: EDUCATION, Immigration, Issues, National, native americans, republicans, separation of church and state, State

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