Santorumisms (noun, plural): Out-of-the-mainstream remarks attributable to an ousted Pennsylvania senator, usually of a theocratic, dogmatic, or reality-denying nature, which often require further explanation or clarification.

It's easy to utter Santorumisms when you're stuck at one percent in the polls, because swing voters aren't bothering to listen. It's another matter entirely when you're suddenly in the lead, because that's when the bright light of scrutiny can burn you.

This weekend alone, Rick Santorum let loose a string of remarks that undoubtedly terrified the party establishment, which rightly fears that if he were to be the nominee, he'd cede the center to Barack Obama and lose decisively in November, dragging the party down with him.

It's hard to pinpoint my favorite weekend Santorumism. Second runner-up was probably his attack on prenatal testing for women (a procedure designed to "cull the ranks of the disabled") - yet another of his patriarchal declarations about how women should conduct their private lives. If he tallied more than 40 percent of women voters in a face-off with Obama, it would be a shock.

First runner-up was probably his attack on public schools, which he likened to "big factories." He also wants to trim or erase state and federal education standards - a fascinating stance, because, when he was a senator, he voted for George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind federal education standards.

By the way, Santorumisms on public education need to be judged against how Santorum has actually conducted himself as a parent. A decade ago, he enrolled his kids in a Pennsylvania cyber-schooling program - technically, a public school governed by state education requirements. The local school district in Penn Hills ponied up $38,000 a year in taxpayer money for his kids' cyber education. It was a sweet deal for Santorum, because he and his family were actually living in Virginia at the time. When the local school district got wind of that news and tried to get him to repay the tuition, he yanked his kids out of the program - and state taxpayers had to help reimburse the school district. (This episode contributed to his 18-point re-election loss in 2006. It would be nice if someone brought it up at the next GOP debate, on Wednesday.)

But his top weekend remark had to be his riff on Obama, his lament that the president's policy agenda is "not a theology based on the Bible."

Wow. Until Santorum enlightened me, I was not aware that a presidential election was supposed to be a test of competing theologies. I had always assumed that there was a separation of church and state, and that a campaign was about matters of state.

And now that I have been duly enlightened, the stakes in 2012 have been greatly clarified: Voters can choose between the theocratic candidate who is guided by the Bible, and the candidate who is not. Indeed, Obama might even be a heathen ("you may want to call it secular values"), the same kind of heathen who chopped off heads during the French Revolution ("When you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution...What’s left in France became the the guillotine").

Equating Obama with the guillotine - that was a Feb. 8 Santorumism.

Naturally, Santorum this weekend was called upon to explain his Bible remark, because it sure sounded like another right-wing dog whistle about how the president is supposedly not a Christian. (In Florida last month, Santorum failed to correct a town-hall dolt who declared that Obama is "an avowed Muslim." Santorum later said it wasn't his job to correct such statements.) But no, Santorum insisted late Saturday, he wasn't impugning Obama's faith at all: "No one's suggesting that...If the president says he's a Christian, he's a Christian."

Then, on CBS' Face the Nation yesterday, Santorum took a different route. He insisted that when he made his initial remarks about Obama's non-fealty to the Bible, he was actually talking about "radical environmentalists."

Huh? He was? Never mind, let the man talk:

"I accept the fact that the president's a Christian. I just said that when you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man, and says that, you know, we can't take those resources because we're going to harm the Earth by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, like for example that politicization of the whole global warming debate, this is just all an attempt to centralize power."

Hang on a sec..."things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, like for example that politicization of the whole global warming debate"?

Could that perchance be a disparaging reference to the virtual consensus about the human role in climate change (supported by 97 percent of scientists, according to the according to the National Academy of Sciences)? Is he suggesting that a candidate who scoffs at the science academies of all G8 nations (plus Brazil, China and India), a candidate who scoffs at science itself - that such a candidate is actually fit to be president of the United States?

I've changed my mind - that was the weekend's top Santorumism. His conservative Christian base was surely thrilled, but wait til the swing voters finally tune in to this guy.

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Speaking of Santorum (again), my Sunday newspaper column dealt with the GOP's alienation of women voters.


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