Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Rick Santorum, Senador Xenófobo

by Ryan Fleming


Photo courtesy of salon.com

The longer Rick Santorum's insurgent campaign endures against Mitt Romey's Inevitability Machine, the more acutely aware I become of just how far off the reservation the GOP has gone in the last five years or so.

A funny phrase, "off the reservation," and remarkably apropos when discussing Santorum's presidential ambitions. It hearkens back to the days when white settlers rounded up Native Americans, shuffling them around the country on undesirable plots of land, imploring the good ones to stay put and bemoaning those who went rogue. Those were the days when a Native American's dark skin and laughably backward ways could almost be overlooked, if not outright excused, provided he don proper western garb, spend some QT in a church pew, and start going by a name that didn't make us nervous.

Fast-forward a couple hundred years and enter Rick Santorum, the latest culture warrior riding out in defense of his version of America: white, industrious, God-fearing folks whose diligent prayers are always offered up in English.

It was this belief in bread-and-butter America that prompted Rick Santorum, on a campaign stop in Puerto Rico, to indicate his tepid support for Puerto Rican statehood before stipulating during an interview with El Vocero: "English [would have] to be the principal language...to be a state in the United States, English has to be the principal language."1

The real America, of course, has no official language and no federal requirement for English-only or English-first policies as a requirement for statehood. This, however, is Rick Santorum's America, where diversity isn't celebrated, but tolerated under certain conditions. If only those pesky natives would build respectable houses instead of wigwams and ditch those nature spirits for some Biblical certainties. If only those islanders would quit wagging their tongues in Spanish and show us some respect in our own language.

We've tasted fruit from this vine before at various points in our history, not just in our aforementioned expulsion of Native Americans, but in keeping ballots out of the meddlesome hands of women and building separate drinking fountains for blacks. For Santorum's ideological forerunners, each advance in equality and inclusion was an erosion of privilege, another case of one of them usurping what rightfully belonged to us. Progress is accepted only grudgingly and with no small bit of dread: we're letting women vote now, but we'll have to make sure they still know their place. Freedom for all people regardless of color sounds nice, but by God, I hope I don't have to rub elbows with black people at my favorite restaurant or sit next to them on the bus. "These are some crazy times, son," the old-timers declare severely, resting weighty, calloused hands on the shoulders of their straw-haired sons, "but there are still plenty of good folks out there who know the way things ought to be."

These days, Rick Santorum's view of how things ought to be is squarely at odds with an island full of Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans gaining statehood. Faced with real diversity - a cherished cornerstone of the American experiment - Santorum is forced to hold his nose, perhaps supposing that the best course of action is to codify his own linguistic heritage above all others while he tries to figure out how to put a stop to this whole Spanish thing altogether.

Never mind that nearly forty million Americans speak Spanish as their first language, or that less than half of all babies born today in the USA were white. America isn't undergoing seismic demographic shifts. Ignore that man behind the curtain.

As a white, straight, Episcopalian male whose first language is English, I'm exactly the kind of guy around whom Rick Santorum thinks he is circling the wagons. Let me be the first, therefore, to offer a response by echoing King Juan Carlos of Spain:

Rick, ¿por qué no te callas?

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