This is just reprehensible and irresponsible journalism. I agree that Rick Santorum is not stating the case as clearly as it could be (or in a sympathetic way), but he is vocalizing things that a large percentage of Americans think. The claim that he is not mainstream should be qualified as not mainstream media.
Let's look at the controversial issues:
- education: personally, I think this is more politicking on both sides than any real disagreement, but maybe not. Rick is not anti-higher education; President Obama is not a snob for advocating for higher ed. Everybody knows that not all jobs require the same level of education and that all people are not the same in terms of their interests and capabilities. We just need to help people realize their potential regardless.
- marriage: well, polls show that the majority of Americans think marriage should be defined between a man and a woman, and last count I saw it was some 31-6 states that had voted along those lines; hardly an "extremist" perspective. Oh yeah, and our current President said he thinks this, too.
- pre/extramarital sex: most everyone agrees that affairs/cheating on your spouse is bad; teen pregnancy is generally agreed to be undesirable; STDs, also bad. Abstinence outside of and fidelity within marriage are the only sure ways to protect against these evils, and there are plenty of Americans, especially parents, who agree with that. This is hardly an extremist position.
- role of women: Cohen makes note of this in passing, as if there is something substantive, but there isn't. I suspect Cohen is projecting his bigoted stereotypes of devout Catholics ("barefoot and pregnant") onto Rick rather than actually understanding Rick's position on women. In fact, just saying "role of women" is telling about Cohen's perception; what if you said, "role of men"? Seems to me that talking about the "role of women" is inherently sexist, as if you could just sum up what women bring to the societal table in a neat little package any more than you can for men..
- contraception: we can agree that Rick's (and my) view of contraception is not mainstream, but that doesn't make us extremists. If we use percentages to determine extremism, then all homosexuals would have to be classified as extremists simply because there aren't that many of them. But I hope we all agree that this would be wrong. Rick has explicitly said that he would not try to impose his views on contraception. But he should have the right to speak about his views on it just as much as Michelle Obama has the right to speak on her views on health and President Obama share his views on the environment or, indeed, women's health. But unlike the President, Rick is not going to force all Americans to pay for his views or violate their consciences.
There is a strong current (and has been since at least Kennedy's time), especially in court decisions but also in common culture, to make religion purely a private matter. This is not a "conservative trope" disconnected from reality. In more recent years, this has turned into outright hostility towards religion, especially Christianity, in the public square. The media backlash against Santorum is enough evidence in itself that this is the case.
These more recent societal tendencies are purely secularist. And it is deceptive to pretend that the secularist agenda is neutral or fair or even American. It is intolerance personified. "Absolutely no religion in the public square" is the mantra. The neologism of "separation of church and state," not found anywhere in the Constitution, has become the cultural presumption.
What Rick, Newt, and many others of faith are saying is that religion is not a purely private matter. It's not just a hobby we practice on the weekends. It is part of our identity, and it is a big part of what motivates us toward the common good and how we view the world. The Constitution guarantees us a right to "free exercise" (words actually in the Constitution), and that includes more than going to services on the weekends.
We don't want to establish our religion as the national state religion; we don't want to persecute those who disagree with us. We're not out to impose our religion on anyone. But just as the secularist works within the democratic system to realize his ideals on the common good, so do we. We should be able to talk freely about our religion and how it motivates us and impacts our thinking, without being branded extremist. We should even be able to offer religious reasoning in favor of public policy. People don't have to agree with us, but the open hostility and virulent, hateful character attacks that result when we do today are unacceptable and wrong.
We--people of faith--are the vast majority in America. We need to stand up for ourselves and stop buying into this false secularlist ideal of total separation of church and state, that the two are inimical to each other, that we can't pray, can't talk about, and can't show our religious beliefs in the public square. We've let it go on for too long; we've let the secularlists bully us into silence and the stripping the public square. It's time to stand up for our Constitutional--indeed our basic human--right to be people of faith and not be ashamed of it.
It is normal to be a person of faith.
It is good to be a person of faith.
It is good and normal to let your faith motivate you towards the common good and to tell others why and how it does.
Don't let irresponsible journalists, media figures, or anyone else tell you otherwise, and not only that, we should call them out on it when they do.