It has been a foregone conclusion that Mitt Romney is going to end up as the Republican candidate for President. But his stiffest challenge is coming from a surprising source. A social conservative, who has made social issues a major part of his rhetoric, is actually mounting a strong campaign to try and derail Romney.

Rick Santorum has become the new “anti-Romney” candidate, and it looks like he’ll have some staying power, after short lived surges by Rick Perry, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich. But the big difference is that Santorum is espousing a unique position, one that looks to return Americato a time when religion was in the public schools and gays were in the closet.

“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,” Santorum has said. “The First Amendment means the free exercise of religion and that means bringing people and their faith into the public square.” In fact, he went on to say that the distinction between private beliefs and public actions, which was eloquently articulated by John F. Kennedy when he promised a worried Americathat he would heed the Constitution over the Pope in spite of his Catholic beliefs, has harmed the country. He said: “All of us have heard people say, ‘I privately am against abortion, homosexual marriage, stem cell research, cloning. But who am I to decide that it’s not right for somebody else?’ It sounds good, but it is the corruption of freedom of conscience.”

Santorum also stated that he does not believe a “right to privacy” is part of the Constitution. He was critical of the Supreme Court overturning a law prohibiting the sale of contraceptives. He described contraception as “a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” He is also in favor of laws against adultery, sodomy, and other actions “antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”

When asked about gay marriage, he wondered if we would then be compelled to have marriage between a man and an animal, comparing it to both and bestiality and pedophilia.

Although many Republicans, such as Ron Paul, think the government should stay out of people’s lives, Santorum believes quite the opposite. He thinks there’s a “libertarianish right,” as he called it, saying: “They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulation low and that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world, and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone.”

But it is indeed a view that is contrary to what most conservatives claim to want, and that’s to keep the government out of our lives. What Santorum is apparently calling for is for the government to stay out of our lives as far as regulating corporations and helping the poor, but when it comes to how we live our personal lives, he wants to tell us what is right and wrong.

I mention helping the poor as something he doesn’t seem to be particularly worried about, because his tax proposals, just like those of the other Republican candidates, would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy. While I realize that many candidates say things to try and get elected, and then once in office face the reality that it isn’t feasible, but Santorum takes it to a whole new level.

Santorum has proposed permanently extending the tax cuts that are now scheduled to expire in 2013, and to further lower individual income taxes by reducing the tax code into just two brackets, of 10 percent and 28 percent. He calls for tripling the exemption for dependent children, cutting the top tax rate on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends to 12 percent, and repealing the alternative minimum tax. He would also repeal the Federal estate tax.

Santorum would also permanently repeal the 0.9 percent tax on wages and the 3.8 percent tax on investment income of wealthy individual taxpayers that were implemented as part of the health reform legislation and are scheduled to take effect in 2013. In fact, he would repeal the whole health care reform legislation, as would all the Republican candidates.

An independent study of the effects of his tax plan came to the conclusion that the Santorum plan would cut taxes for about 81 percent of taxpayers by an average of more than $9,700, while a small percentage would face tax increases. The people facing increases would be single parents, because he would eliminate the “head of household” filing status. He claims to be doing that to eliminate any tax penalty for being married, but one might guess he wants to discourage people from having children when they’re not married, since he is trying save our country through family values.

We’re all for lower taxes, but a major problem with all this is the study estimates it would cause roughly a 40 percent cut in total revenue.

That’s just not realistic. Even cutting the government drastically, from the military to Social Security, would not be enough to make up for that much of a reduction in revenue. There’s no way he could implement this plan and not blow up the deficit.

Without a realistic fiscal plan, and with a scenario that would change our culture from one of freedom to one of religiously guided laws restricting our private behavior, you’d think Santorum would be considered so out of the mainstream that he wouldn’t have a shot at getting nominated. Yet that appears to be the state of Republican politics today; there’s what used to be a fringe element that is now controlling a decent percentage of the party. Hard to believe it’s happening in 2012. Sounds more like a return to 1912.

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