I am seeing a bothersome trend in recent conversations with liberal friends. Today – the back-breaking straw that provoked this post – someone was expressing a desire to move to not-the-USA – a typical election year sentiment expressed by worried people – if Santorum was elected as president. The stated reason? He is an extremist. The nature of extremism? That he thinks all contraception should be illegal. I seriously fear someone has conflated personal belief with likely legislative agenda. The position of the Catholic church is well known; I have not heard Santorum make any motions towards trying to impose that on the USA by law. If he has said such things, I apologize for my skepticism.
At any rate, at face value the lack of perspective embodied by that complaint is stunning. I noted that Santorum, even if he did try to ban contraceptives, would get nowhere; the objection was dismissed. But consider: the issue is obviously an unreality in the political climate, and I doubt he could persuade even half of the Catholic Republican congressmen to get behind such legislation. Even bans on the most heinous forms of abortion have been fought tooth and nail: to attempt to replicate Catholic doctrine in secular law would quite likely result in an attempted impeachment on grounds of gross overreach or something.
If, as I instead suspect from conversations with others, this was nothing more than a polite way of complaining that Santorum is pro-life and against abortion, then any of the Republican candidates – except Governor Johnson, if he is still (however technically) in the running – are equally "extreme", and so are something like half the people in the United States. Which is of course another topic, and other people have said in so many words that this is the one reason they could not vote for a Republican candidate who would, at the very least, not veto anti-abortion legislation.
The counter-attack, the fact that Obama's agenda has been on the whole quite leftist, tends also to get nowhere. If you take that tack, then either "leftist" gets defined in global terms, and Obama's policies end up looking center-ish; or the right is labeled "extreme" and discounted... and Obama's policies end up being the only thing "legitimate" so how can they be extreme themselves? For an example of common reasoning: Obamacare was a good thing; the Democrats lost seats because of the Tea Party; but there is nothing reasonable to complain about; therefore, the Tea Party are dangerous idiots – and in the worse cases of logic-failure, people end up thinking that the fiscal-responsibility wing of the Republican party (which is what the Tea Party, on the whole, is) can be discounted entirely in the political calculus. These are not the worst examples of inability to add two plus two and get four that I have seen. The connection between the passage of the (deeply flawed) healthcare bill and the almost immediate success of the Republican party is not made or ignored. For a party that by and large professes to practice relativistic ideology, the overall tone of opinions on other parties' views is incredibly dismissive when not downright incoherent and pleased with themselves for being ignorant of their opponents' supposed ignorance.