“Who would actually think they are able to do a job of this significance and this difficulty?”
Gayle Trotter: This is Gayle Trotter, and today I’m speaking with former Senator Rick Santorum of the Great State of Pennsylvania. Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Senator.
Rick Santorum: It’s a pleasure to be with you, Gayle. Thank you for having me on.
GT: You think that President John F. Kennedy made a mistake about the role of religious faith in politics. What was his mistake?
RS: Senator Kennedy — he was a senator at the time — made his initial statement in his speech. He said, “I believe in an America where the separation of the church and state is absolute.” That is not an America that our founders would have understood. They believed that faith had a vital role in shaping and forming the discourse of our country. And that the provisions of the Constitution which were put in place to prohibit the establishment of religion, were put in place to protect faith from government, not to protect government from faith. And Kennedy went on and used the phrase that Thomas Jefferson had used in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, but that letter was written some eleven years after the Constitution had been ratified, and by the way, Jefferson wasn’t even involved in the writing of the Constitution. He was overseas at the time. But Jefferson wrote that in response to a letter from the Danbury Baptists who were concerned about the state interference with their faith and the practice of their faith. And Jefferson wrote that there was a wall of separation between government and the faith to protect the faith, to protect believers. And what Kennedy did was turn that on its head.
And said that, no, that this wall of separation was to protect government from people of faith. And in fact went on in his address, and said that he will take no counsel from any person of faith, that faith will have no role to play. Not only would he not listen to the pope, but he won’t listen to anybody, any clergy, and said that he will simply be guided by his conscience which, of course, is the great place that those who make these kinds of statements hide. But they forget to say that, of course, your conscience is formed by something. You are not born with a formed conscience.
RS: And so the question is what does form your conscience? He, of course, doesn’t reveal that. None of the folks do actually talk about faith being thrown out of the public square, and the goal that there should be a separation of people of faith from being in the public square, to participate in government. They don’t tell you what should be legitimate in forming people’s conscience.
GT: In the world but not of it — how do you do that as a Christian and still get elected as a politician?
RS: I always said when I first was elected that I had a constituency of one. And if you are serving God in your daily work, what you know is right and you are being transparent about what you are doing and why you are doing it, then it is up for the people then to decide whether what you believe, and what you think is in the best interest of the country, is what they think. I believe that a legislator or a president or a governor owes the public one thing: that is their best effort to do what they think is right. When I say best effort, to get all the facts, all the information, analyze the situation and to be transparent with people as to what you’ve considered, why you’ve considered it, and why you came to the conclusion you came to. And that to me, we owe the public our industry and our best judgment. But we don’t owe them the proverbial finger in the wind as to whatever the public at the moment decides that they want to be for because in a republic, in a representative democracy, there is a delegation of duty to that representative, to that executive to do the job of, having as your job, getting all the information, being able to consider that information. Whereas most people, they have jobs. They have other things to do. This is your responsibility and you can’t defer to others whose job it isn’t, to do your job.
GT: How do you stand up for your principles in the face of the nastiness of your opponents?
RS: One of the things that I really work hard and try to do when it comes to the attacks that we get is understand that number one, these people don’t know me. They know the positions that I hold or they know at least the representation by some of the media as to the positions I hold and what I say. But they certainly don’t know who I am. And so the viciousness and the nastiness which unfortunately is so much a part of politics in America today, it has come over time not to bother me in the least. In fact, the more vitriol I see, and unfortunately I see probably more than my fair share, I tend to feel sorry for people who do that, who are so filled with hate and just seem to be preoccupied with this venomous need to lash out at those with whom they disagree. I make it a point every day to pray for all those people who say the things that they say and try to make sure that I understand it. There is a great line — actually, more than a line — from St. Thomas More who was asked by his daughter when he was in the Tower of London shortly before he was executed how he could have such equanimity towards his detractors and toward those who wanted to kill him.
RS: He drew a rather beautiful explanation, as you said, of having one foot in this world and another in the next, looking at ultimately what was going to happen to the people who were his prosecutors. He said, “Well, either they are right, and I am wrong. And if that’s the case, then why should I hate them because they were right and I was wrong. Or if I was right and they were wrong, then one of two things. That they will repent and they will be my brothers in heaven and so why should I think ill of them now just because right now they are doing things that are wrong. Or they will not repent and they will be damned to eternal damnation and what kind of man am I that would hate someone who is to be pitied as such?” And so, that’s sort of the way I look at it. You have to think of things, that what ultimately matters is not what’s going on here. What ultimately matters — when it comes to people — I’m not talking about issues. On issues, I’ll be passionate, I’ll fight, I’ll work. I’m talking about in having animus towards people — I don’t think of people the way I think of issues. Unfortunately, there are many who don’t see the world that way, who hold people’s positions as a personal affront and aren’t able to separate a public policy dispute from something that’s personal.
GT: People who run for president always talk about giving and about service to the country, but isn’t ego a part of it as well? Do you think that people who run for president think of themselves as the one person that the nation needs right now?
RS: That’s a very tricky issue, and that is a matter of who would think that they are actually able to do a job of this significance and this difficulty? At the same time, we need people who believe that they can do this job and put themselves forward. As I said, it is a very tricky issue. I’ve always tried to focus on: What is God’s will? What is God’s call in my life? I try to discern whether this is what He wants me to do and be open to accepting whatever that is. Do I think I am the best person in the world to do this job? I have no idea, but I do know, that having had experience at the national level, and worked with a lot of people including people who have this job, that whoever has this job is deeply flawed and is going to need a lot of help and support and is going to need a lot of prayer and need a lot of help from God for discernment. So I put myself out there that I’m going to be as flawed as everyone else, but hopefully I have some ability to discern and to rely on the people that any leader needs to rely upon to be able to execute the duties of his office.
GT: What prepares you for the sort of decision President Obama had to make recently in regard to killing Osama Bin Laden, not just the decision to kill the enemy — which is relatively easy — but to take on the risk of failure of such an operation?
RS: I would say that that was a relatively easy decision in this respect. The decision about to kill Osama Bin Laden had been made ten years ago. The President was simply continuing a policy that was already in place. The question as to whether this particular military tactic would be successful was one that pretty much all of the people that he had consulted recommended that this was the course he should take. What would have been a difficult decision was to go against all of these recommendations and actually do something different. I believe he made the right call. I believe he had good advice and he followed it. Was it an easy decision? It was easy in the sense that he followed what was recommended. It is always hard because you take on the responsibility, as you mentioned, of failure. But that certainly comes with the position. If you are afraid of failure, don’t run for president. If you’re afraid of being criticized because you did something wrong, do not run for this office. You better have a thick skin, and you better be able to understand that you are going to make mistakes. You are going to work hard not to, and you are going to do the best you can. But the idea that the decisions you are going to make, that all of them are going to turn out well and that you are going to be applauded for all these decisions, you are not living in the real world if you believe that.
GT: Right. Bush really found that out, didn’t he?
RS: Every modern president. Again, if you go into this with the idea you are going to be president because of your ego or because you think you are going to be adored by the public, name me a president other than Reagan who has left office in the last fifty years who left office with a better approval than he had when he started. It just doesn’t happen.
GT: I’ve read some about your baby Gabriel. How did the death of baby Gabriel affect your commitment to the pro-life stance on abortion?
RS: It’s a very long story so I will try to shorten it up. His life and his death occurred at a very monumental time for me in my faith journey, as well as in my journey in fighting for the values of life on the floor of the United States Senate. Prior to the fall of 1996, I had never really engaged in any debate on the floor of the Senate or the House before that on the issue of abortion, and felt that it would not be in my political interest to do so. And yet, I felt compelled because of the faith journey I was on that I needed to step up on this issue of partial birth abortion and ended up taking the floor and managing the bill and leading the debate. Within a week after that debate was ended, we found out that Gabriel had a fatal defect in utero and was going to die. We did everything we could do to save him, but he was born premature and died. It was that maelstrom of what we went through with Gabriel mixed in with this faith walk, and this finally coming forward and risking representing life and fighting for life and having what happened to my son be very much like what was happening to mothers who were having partial birth abortions. It just profoundly affected me in a way that ultimately affirmed what I was doing, even though we lost our son. We went through some times — certainly my wife details in the book — “shaking your fist at God” moments that she had. For me, it was more of a reflective time and just wondering why God was doing this. He provided more than one answer and understanding that, of course, only the understanding that the peace of God can give.
GT: If it hadn’t been politics, what would you have done with your life?
RS: That’s just a question I can’t answer. I’m many things, but I’m not a planner. I’m not someone who sat down and said this is what I want to do. I very much live in the moment. I very much live in what I feel like I’m called to do. People say, “What are you going to do if you don’t win?” I don’t know. I have no idea what I’m going to do. I don’t even think about it. When I was in the Senate, I never thought about the next day with respect to me and my life. I just figured that if I’m doing God’s will and things don’t go well, then He will open up another door or another window, and we’ll go do that. I’m very comfortable in my faith in that regard that if we continue to do what I feel like God has called me to do, everything else will work out just fine.
GT: Thank you. That is so inspiring for all my listeners. Thank you so much, Senator Santorum, for taking this time to speak with me.
RS: My pleasure. Thank you so much. Have a great day, and God bless!