COMMENTARY | There has been a bit of speculation in the media, like that put forth by Jon Healey at the Los Angeles Times, about whether or not moderators at debates -- like the Arizona Republican presidential debate -- should question former Pennsylvania senator and current national preference poll frontrunner Rick Santorum on his religious views as they pertain to his positions on issues. Since the controversial senator has been rather vocal in pushing his bible-backed social conservativism in public arenas, it would be a fair topic to consider. But should the topic be pursued at all?
It is debatable what purpose bringing up Santorum's recent forays into dominionist theology (that President Obama practiced a "different theology" with regard to the environment) and that God's law superseded constitutional law (as he stated at the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference) would serve. Highlighting his statements could be seen as an attempt to disclose and/or belittle Santorum's seemingly narrow-minded Christian views or perhaps give voters a better understanding of the extreme values he tends to hold. It could be seen by some as an attack on his religious faith. Questions about his beliefs or the comments about his beliefs might also be seen, depending on the wording of the moderating questions, as perhaps even giving support to the candidate's views (or another candidate's views).
But what is not debatable is that questioning Santorum's religious views on God and God's place in the political arena will also open up the necessity for questioning the other candidates with regard to their religious values and viewpoints as they pertain to political issues. It would become a matter of fairness. Questioning Santorum about how his interpretation of God's views on contraception and defending Israel from aggressors would become the springboard for asking Mitt Romney how Mormonism might affect his foreign policy decisions as well as his ability to sign or veto bills governing social issues.
And then there is Ron Paul and Newt Gingrich to consider as well...
Dragging God onstage during a nationally publicized debate can be seen a backlash against the moderators, something seen in a previous debate when Newt Gingrich hypocritically condemned CNN's John King for asking if he would like to comment on a current story making the rounds about Gingrich's former wife's allegations concerning his infidelity. It could also see a groundswell of popular support for the candidate -- or candidates -- seen as being belittled or criticized or singled out for their beliefs, especially considering the lofty place freedom of religion holds in the value system of most Americans.
Given Santorum's and Gingrich's past instances of open pontifications on the faux persecution of religion in America (read: the 76 percent of America that considers itself Christian), it might simply give them a soapbox upon which to berate what some refer to as the godless liberal media. But, then, such openly stated views might also reflect negatively and show those same candidates as somewhat religiously motivated political extremists.
Approaching the subject of religion at a debate is a double-edged sword for all those involved...
Dragging out the personal beliefs of the GOP presidential contenders might be illuminating, but doing so could open a pandora's box of possible political ramifications as well. Likely as not, the moderators at the Arizona Republican Presidential Debate on Wednesday evening will steer clear of the volatile topic.
But if just one of them -- or even one of the candidates -- broaches, say, Santorum's 2008 speech about Satan attacking America that is getting heavy play in the media (thanks to RightWingWatch.org), there could be the devil to pay...
- Newt Gingrich