A Further Perspective

Satan and Santorum

Perspective from Reagan's Evil Empire speech.

By 2.22.12

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Like vampires fleeing a cross, the secular world shudders and trembles at the sight of Rick Santorum delivering a speech about good and evil at Ave Maria University in Florida in 2008. Santorum's statement came 25 years after another much-maligned social conservative, Ronald Reagan, delivered a similarly fiery but much-needed statement in Florida in 1983. In both cases, our liberal friends recoiled in horror, mortified that any American other than Barack Obama or Jimmy Carter might dare remark on matters of faith and state, of the temporal and eternal.

I caught excerpts of the Santorum speech for the first time yesterday, when America's omnipresent force -- Matt Drudge -- posted the link under the grim, black-and-white headline, "SANTORUM'S SATAN WARNING." Immediately, the remainder of the natural universe leapt in knee-jerk hysteria, and soon Santorum's warnings of the Evil One were the talk of a stunned nation.

As I digested the speech, I was struck at how so many of Santorum's themes and words -- which were right on the money -- echoed those expressed in Ronald Reagan's historic Evil Empire speech. Santorum ruminated on the "father of lies," spiritual warfare, truth, vanity, sensuality, temptation, pride, education, abortion. Like Reagan, he fears that the "great political conflict" at work in America "is not a political war at all, or a cultural war -- it is a spiritual war." In that war, "the father of lies has set his sights on none other than good, decent, powerful, influential United States of America."

And then, like Reagan, he finished with a message of faith-based optimism for the faithful gathered in the room: "My message to you today is that you will lose, you will lose battle after battle; you will become frustrated, but do not lose hope. God will be faithful, if you are."

As for Ronald Reagan's Evil Empire speech, it was many things. It is remembered principally, and correctly, as a bold, long overdue utterance of unadulterated truth about the USSR, which Reagan aptly described as "the focus of evil in the modern world." But the speech was much more. It looked inward at the sins and evils at work in America -- as did Santorum's speech. It was first and foremost a speech about evil generally, theological as much as political -- like Santorum's speech. As Reagan himself put it, "We know that living in this world means dealing with what philosophers would call the phenomenology of evil or, as theologians would put it, the doctrine of sin." Reagan dared to use the "J" word, inserting a distinctly Christian claim: "There is sin and evil in the world, and we're enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it with all our might."

Reagan's speech came at 3:04 p.m. on March 8, 1983 in the Citrus Crown Ballroom at the Orlando Sheraton Twin Towers Hotel. The audience was the National Association of Evangelicals. He began by thanking all those present for their prayers, saying that their intercession had "made all the difference" in his life. He cited his favorite quote from Lincoln, about being driven to his knees by the conviction he had nowhere else to go. He then commended the role of religious faith in American democracy. "[F]reedom prospers only where the blessings of God are avidly sought and humbly accepted," Reagan maintained. "The American experiment in democracy rests on this insight." He said the discovery of that insight was the "great triumph" of the Founders. Indeed it was.

Characteristically, Reagan cited Thomas Jefferson on God and liberty and George Washington on the indispensability of religion and morality to "political prosperity." Reagan bemoaned the "modern-day secularism" that had discarded the "tried and time-tested values" upon which American civilization was based. He expressed deep concern over rising illegitimate births and abortions. He pushed for prayer in public schools.

Reagan then spoke without fear about evils pervading American life. "Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal," said Reagan. "[T]he long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights, once a source of disunity and civil war, is now a point of pride for all Americans…. There is no room for racism, anti-Semitism, or other forms of ethnic and racial hatred in this country."

Like Santorum, Reagan essentially agreed that America too had been victimized by Satan. Racism and slavery and ethnic hatred were among the Devil's vicious victories in the United States.

Only then did Reagan turn his attention offshore -- toward the Soviet Union. "[L]et us pray for the salvation of all of those who live in that totalitarian darkness," asked Reagan, "pray they will discover the joy of knowing God. But until they do, let us be aware that while they preach the supremacy of the state, declare its omnipotence over individual man, and predict its eventual domination of all peoples on the Earth, they are the focus of evil in the modern world."

And yet, like Santorum, Reagan was wary of the temptation to pride, to vanity, including mistaken and misplaced pride and vanity. It was there that he offered the most famous passage in his speech:

I urge you to speak out against those who would place the United States in a position of military and moral inferiority…. I urge you to beware the temptation of pride -- the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.

Reagan quoted Whittaker Chambers. In so doing, he cast the struggle facing America as a spiritual one. Reagan stated:

The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith. Whittaker Chambers, the man whose own religious conversion made him a witness to one of the terrible traumas of our time, the Hiss-Chambers case, wrote that the crisis of the Western World exists to the degree in which the West is indifferent to God, the degree to which it collaborates in communism's attempt to make man stand alone without God. And then he said, for Marxism-Leninism is actually the second oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, "Ye shall be as gods.''

Reagan then finished with a burst of faith-based optimism, quoting one of his favorite Scripture verses, from Isaiah: "He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might He increased strength.… But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary."

There was much more to Reagan's speech. I encouraged readers to Google a transcript and read more. You will find even more remarkable similarities to Santorum's thinking.

Of course, in reaction to Reagan's speech, the press went nuts, much like the reaction to Santorum's remarks.

Oh, well. To borrow from Reagan: There they go again.

Be not afraid, Rick. Be not afraid.

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About the Author

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.