Saturday’s GOP Debate (Sawyer/Stephanopolous Version)

I missed the first half hour of Saturday night’s GOP debate, and so when Jeff told me they’d spent a good fifteen minutes — or, in his words, a “frightening” 15 minutes — discussing contraception, I was doubtful.

He also told me Rick Perry didn’t pick a booger on stage. Again, I was doubtful, although the pantheon of things Perry does to embarrass Perry is greater, perhaps, than my imagination.

So I watched the first half of the debate again last night on CNN. I saw a befuddled, wounded-looking Perry assure the audience that Barack Obama is a socialist, I saw Ron Paul grow peevish with tempestuous microphones and taunting opponents, and I saw Jon Huntsman once again illustrate what sane people look like when sailing rocky seas while surrounded by nitwits. It was upsetting, but I’m used to it — even without Bachmann and Cain, the GOP field is pathetic and obtuse, an example of the very worst effects of the Religious Right on the Republican Party.

But even though I had anticipated a Santorum surge (it’s true — ask Jeff!), I was unprepared for the reality that the opposition party in the 2012 presidential election would actually involve itself in a discussion not of the immorality of poverty, greed, war-mongering, or debt, but of contraception.

Birth control.

Trojans, pills, foams, and Nuvarings. Natural Family Planning, abstinence, and coitus interruptus, perhaps. IUD’s and injections, and for some maybe even Coca-Cola douches. All things important to Americans, but none of them at all appropriate focuses for the politicians who serve them.

Fortunately, even among the doofurati of the GOP, Santorum stood out as exceptional. That’s how it should be; Santorum’s social conservatism is far beyond the pale of what’s truly “Christian” and what’s honestly “conservative,” and his ascendance in the polls is, I hope, just another example of the Religious Right’s endless, fruitless courting of the God-talkers in the GOP — an exercise in bigotry and pandering that should result in their resounding loss in November.

Whether it will or not is largely dependent on the degree to which American evangelicals embrace God or mammon, Jesus or Herod. They’re free to side with the powerful and the rich and extract misery after misery upon the poor. But they’re not free to claim that their Savior applauds their efforts.

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