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GOP’s Rick Santorum knows nothing about America’s immigrant heritage

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Rick Santorum (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Specifically, I recommend to the Republican presidential candidate a much heralded debut novel by Lyndsay Faye entitled The Gods of Gotham.

The book is set in the 1840s, just as the Famine Irish were pouring into New York.

Needless to say, not everyone was pleased at this influx, and Faye includes snippets of the most vile anti-Irish, anti-Catholic writings of the day.

“The popish countries of Europe are disgorging upon our shores, from year to year, their ignorant, superstitious, and degraded inhabitants, not only by tens, but by hundreds of thousands, who already claim the highest privileges of native citizens, and even the country itself.”

So claimed a tract entitled American Protestant in Defence of Civil and Religious Liberty Against
Inroads of Popery.  This is just one sample of several Faye includes in her book, to capture the wild fear Catholic immigration struck into the hearts and minds of native-born Americans.

As a devout Catholic (as he is all too willing to remind us), you might think that Santorum would be slightly sensitive to the kind of bigoted thoughts that drove nativists back in the 1840s.

You might think that, but you’d be wrong. Because Santorum is hanging around with folks on the campaign trail whose intolerance seems right out of the good old anti-Catholic days of the Know Nothing party of the 19th Century.

Last week, while campaigning in Louisiana, Santorum was introduced by a wonderful Christian named Reverend Dennis Terry.  Here’s what Terry had to say:

“This nation was founded as a Christian nation...there’s only one God and his name is Jesus. I’m tired of people telling me that I can’t say those words.

“If you don’t love America and you don’t like the way we do things, I’ve got one thing to say -- get out! We don’t worship Buddha. I said we don’t worship Buddha. We don’t worship Mohammed. We don’t worship Allah.

“We worship God. We worship God’s son Jesus Christ.”

Some of us do.  Others, alas, don’t.

Santorum was there on the stage as this guy said this.

Why stop there, Reverend Terry?  Fifty years ago it would have been perfectly fine to add something like: “And we don’t kiss the ring of anyone sitting in a palace in Rome wearing a fancy hat.”

That’s exactly the type of anti-Catholic garbage Al Smith faced on the campaign trail in 1928.  Even in 1960, John F. Kennedy heard that America was simply not a place for certain types of religion.

Undoubtedly, Terry and those like him would not have had much use for Santorum’s Italian immigrant grandfather and his “popish” ways.

But did Santorum condemn Terry and his intolerant ravings?  Hardly.

“If the question is, do I agree with his statement that America shouldn’t do that? No, if he was speaking for himself he’s obviously allowed to believe what he wants to believe but, obviously I believe in freedom of religion and all religions are welcome and should be,” Santorum said afterwards.

Of course Terry is “allowed to believe what he wants to believe.”  No one doubts he and many others are free to think like pinheads.

The question is this -- does Santorum honestly believe that he should be sharing a stage with a man who trashes America’s long, gloried history of immigration and assimilation, one of the things that made this nation great and strong?

In particular, as a Catholic – a group despised unlike any other not too long ago – does he not see that bashing one religious minority eventually leads to the bashing of all?
Santorum did offer up a defense for himself.

“I didn’t clap when he said that. I do remember him saying that, I said, well, I wasn’t quite sure he was saying it for himself, I wasn’t quite listening to everything to be honest with you.

“But I wasn’t sure whether he was speaking for himself or speaking generally, but I didn’t clap when he said that because it’s not how I feel.”

Good grief.

Not clapping and claiming to not listen now serve as a rousing defense of America’s melting pot heritage.  Well played, Mr. Santorum.  Your grandfather would be so proud.

Next time someone asks Santorum how he feels about America’s immigrant heritage, he should just say he knows nothing.

(Contact “Sidewalks” at facebook.com/tomdeignan)

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