Santorum’s Tyranny of the Local

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It requires a lot of discipline to offer commentary on Rick Santorum, simply because alarmingly crazy statements tumble out of his mouth with such profusion. And I say alarmingly crazy because, last I checked Rick Santorum is leading the field nationally in polls for the Republican presidential nomination. That says as much about the state of today’s Republican Party as you need to know. “Yikes,” probably sums it up, though that also likely suffices as the Republican establishment’s reaction too, given that Santorum as a nominee has every appearance of a General Custer moment for the Republican Party.

Though some of Santorum’s weekend smorgasbord of Kook-A-Roo was uniquely his own brand of Luddite cultural views, religious extremism and ideological medievalism, some reflected the broader extremism of his political party. In particular, his comments advancing the idea that public schools are inimical to the national interest, and that federal and even state involvement in schools is almost literally the devil’s work.

This celebration and advocacy on the right of localism has a long and queasy history. States’ rights was the pseudo-principle offered as the motivation for retaining segregation and deterring legislation enshrining civil rights. And of course the introduction of sex education and African-Americans into the public schools turned the white reactionary crowd into inveterate enemies of public education.

Principle has little to do with it of course; power and control do. Localism really means employers can treat employees any way they wish, sans interference; schools can teach anything they want, majorities may treat minorities of any kind as high-handedly as they may choose. Those for whom localism isn’t such a sanguine prospect are those who work for others, those being taught in the schools (and the quality of what they’re taught), and those whose views or ethnicity are in the minority. Localism protects hegemony, localism protects domination, or even abuse, localism protects that which the light of day and outside scrutiny and intervention may effectively remedy.

Localism is where business interests and theocratic interests unite inside the Republican Party. Localism means unchallenged authority of local power brokers, whether business, political, educational or religious; and social enforcement of majority views, whether social, cultural, religious or political. It’s about control and authority for those who’ve been enjoying both, not the local freedom of anybody else. This localism is particularly attractive to the reptilian conservative brain with its abiding affection for hierarchies: deference to the power of wealth and the usefulness of religious authority.

Sealing places off from the scrutiny and intercession of the outside is seldom done for benevolent purposes whether it is autocratic political regimes or autocratic small towns. The prerogative of central governments to guarantee the rights of those whose rights may be abridged by those who may be in power on the local level is good reason for some to abhor the central government (or Big Government as they like to call it).

It certainly isn’t accidental that the fundamentalist Islamic world depends upon the isolation of its otherwise perhaps involuntary adherents, cut-off from information and education, indoctrination replacing both in the isolated and protected vacuum. Here our theocrats like Santorum are a great deal like their theocrats. If you want people to retain an ignorance of the scientific origins of man, keep the young away from the scientific, and indoctrinate them with creationism instead.

Fundamentalist Islamists cite religious reasons for preventing females from obtaining an education. Does their local or religious sovereignty transcend the greater good of the society for a fully educated populace, not to mention the rights of girls to receive an education? Modern societies tend to think not, which is why views like Santorum’s register as medieval.

There’s a way to observe this localism translated to a larger scale. Call it the localism of conservative media, under the dominion of which those who remain sealed inside the protectorate from outside information, enlightenment and fact end up believing what the conservative base for instance does now about presidential birth places and climate change; and the party’s political leaders and political candidates reflect, if not encourage it: the party’s presidential primaries becoming the Cirque du Banal we are witnessing now.

Of course there is an argument to be made for sovereignty, for the autonomy of a group of people or a locality to do as they damn please. The question becomes how seriously one is willing to allow for the diminishment and decline of overall strength and health of the larger community or nation in order to retain it. Because that diminishment and decline are virtually certain. Since the right has an abiding attraction to nationalism and national superiority they will certainly have to choose, whether they like it or not. I’d suggest they give it some thought, though I prefer to save my breath for something with better odds.

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