Tina Brown: Santorum and the Culture Wars

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What bliss to find the culture wars come roaring back. TV pundits were visibly wilting at the thought of eight more months of an election fought only over a wretched economy. Then a cluster of Catholic, contraception, and gay-marriage firecrackers exploded over the caucuses and primary contests. Saint Santorum was in business at last: he’s raised $2.2 million since Tuesday night. It’s no more than a rounding error in Romney parlance, with his $56.8 million haul in 2011, but Romney’s low-wattage intonations of “America the Beautiful” will never rally the base like a candidate who has compared homosexuality to bestiality.

For many believers, faith doesn’t just comfort and guide. It condemns the world for being so morally porous in the first place. Santorum’s ideology—derived from papal encyclicals—seeks to bring the U.S. in all of its teeming diversity under the universal “natural” laws preached by the Vatican. His ideal America would be a place without the abomination of moral “disorder” that afflicts our country, and—as Andrew Sullivan writes in this issue—the abortion controversy “could finally unite the Christian fundamentalist right behind” him.

But Santorum’s traction in winning four state contests was about more than trampled moral conservatism. There’s a wider animating fear—not just among the GOP base—that modern life has become a scary, unmanageable vortex of social and economic change. We all have low-tech hungers when we shut the door at night, even if those hungers are satisfied by other solutions than those offered by Rick?... That’s why it was so inspired of Chrysler to rent Clint Eastwood’s big, craggy survivor’s face and whispery golden-oldie diction for its Super Bowl ad. (Read Paul Begala on how Clint and the Boss’s new album entwine.)

While Lexus and Infiniti use announcers with brushed-platinum voices and tony English accents, Clint’s voice—male and ragged—suggests the suffering we’ve all shared. “People are out of work and they are hurting,” he croaks from the twilight, “and they’re all wondering what they’re gonna do to make a comeback ... The people of Detroit know a little something about this. They almost lost everything. But we all pulled together. Now the Motor City is fightin’ back.” Republicans don’t have to be paranoid to fret about Chrysler’s sly co-opting of language Obama has used about “folks coming together.” Chrysler has turned its first profit since 1997, so when Romney campaigns in Michigan, he’ll need one of his dinky U-turns to explain his 2008 New York Times op-ed, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.”

Brilliantly, the Clint ad positions the workaday status of Chrysler as the cool, new positive, as if Clint’s saying this isn’t the car you get because you can’t afford to consider a Lexus or an Infiniti, this is the car you get because you won’t be beaten down, because you’re coming out of the tunnel, because you’re proud of who you are, and the hell with all those fancy-schmancy foreign values the slick marketers stuff down our throats, those bloodless balance-sheet guys brought in to “restructure” our companies like ... Mitt Romney. Instead, Clint puts us back in an America that makes shiny, powerful, revving machines that are going to give us not just a recovery but a comeback. Pity he’s not on the ballot.

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