I am running for President of the United States to reverse the course we are on under President Obama. Our government everyday and in every way is ordering us around, trampling our freedoms, curtailing our religious liberty and building a dependency on big government.

This is President Obama’s vision for America and we cannot let him succeed. This election is a turning point for our nation and we must be committed to fight for freedom. […] Voters are responding to our message giving us strong wins in Kansas, Alabama and Mississippi within the last 10 days.

Now we continue on to Louisiana and beyond, and we need your help as we stand on the side of conservatism and freedom. Let us take up this fight together with renewed vigor, so that future generations do not say about America, “When men were free.”

Working hard for America,

Rick Santorum

—From a fundraising email sent by the Rick Santorum campaign

“Tell us a story, Grandpa Santorum,” several of the children said together. It was cold, and from the front of the concrete bunker, there was a low whistle as the wind pushed through the gaps around the old wooden door. “Tell us a story again, from the before-times.”

Grandpa Santorum smiled a grizzled smile. The children knew he loved to tell stories; the old man knew they liked hearing them. “Oh, I don’t know,” he answered. “There are so many stories from those times. But I think I’ve already told you every story worth telling. I’m not sure how many more stories there are.”

The children protested loudly. “Tell us what it was like!” said a small girl in a flower-print dress. “Tell us about the freedoms!” a bony young man exclaimed.

Grandpa smiled again. He would tease them about the stories, but he would never really deny them one. “Well,” he started out. “What was it like, in the before-times? Why, I remember it as if it was yesterday. Oh, the way the sun would shine, in those days before The Obama, The Destroyer of All Things.” (Here the children squealed at mention of The Destroyer, as they always did.) “The way people would laugh, and sing! It was not at all like these dark days.” He leaned back in the tattered old chair, settling into the rhythm of his speech. “But what was it really like? I think it all boils down to one thing. In those days, men were free.”

The children gasped appreciatively, even though most of them had heard the phrase a hundred times before. “The women too?” asked the girl in the flower-print dress, her eyes wide. She was new to the group, and new to Grandpa’s stories of those long-past golden days.

“Don’t be stupid, little Sally. Of course not the women. I said the men.” The other children laughed, and Sally looked sheepish.

“The men, they were free. Well, the white men. The black men, not so much. The brown ones, not so much. But the white men, the lily white ones, now, and not the ones from certain countries, mainly just the ones of the right breeding, now they were free. As long as they were Christian, anyway. And you had to be the right kind of Christian, too—none of that Mormon crap. Catholics were sketchy—I was a Catholic, you know, and it could be tough sometimes, what with all the oppression—but definitely evangelical protestant types, now they were nearly gods among men. Not to be sacrilegious, but you know what I mean.” The children nodded, though no, none of them really knew what he meant.

“This was a time when, if you were the right color and the right religion, you were simply recognized as better than anyone else. Jobs would open up for you. You had something called a pension, which was essentially just free money if I remember it correctly. You had a wife of your choosing, so long as she was similarly white and of the right religion. Oh, and the right social status, of course. And she would do whatever you wanted, because everybody knew that religious white men ran the world, and everybody knew that it was the job of the women to make sure they could do so in peace. Not at all like now.”

Sally looked confused, but if she had any opinions on the matter, she kept them to herself, as decent God-fearing children should. “But what happened?” she asked quietly.

“Oh, my dear. The better question would be what didn’t happen. It all happened so quietly. A few of us, we tried to speak up—you know, back in my day I was quite the influential fellow—but nobody would really listen. It started going wrong, and then just kept going more wrong. One day we elected a black guy as president, and I think the whole thing started to crumble right then and there. That’s when we started losing those freedoms. When it really took off, anyway.”

“What did The Destroyer do?” asked a very young boy near the back.

Grandpa narrowed his eyes. “Well, what did he do … he did … hmm. It wasn’t so much that he did anything. I mean, even at the time nobody could quite put their finger on how he was destroying things, which is what made it so damn scary, if you will. But there was one thing, one big thing, that you could point to. Yes sir, it was The Destroyer that tried tried to expand access to health care.” The children shivered at this. If Grandpa owned a flashlight, he would be holding it under his chin right now to properly set the mood, as usual, but Grandpa refused to use his flashlight ever since the Dark Ones mandated a three percent increase in battery efficiency, the year before last, and so it sat in a dusty box in one corner of the long, damp bunker.

“Yep. There were a bunch of folks before then that proposed people maybe ought to get better healthcare, good solid Christian people, but nobody ever actually acted on it. They all knew that’d be stupid. But then here comes this Obama fellow, and BOOM! Slightly better health insurance for some people. Kinda, anyway. You can’t imagine, children, how terrifying it was. I heard tell people maybe started living slightly longer after that, even in states that didn’t give a damn whether or not they lived longer. Kids with preexisting conditions got insurance, even though God clearly didn’t want them to have insurance, otherwise he wouldn’t have given ’em a preexisting condition, now would he? No, it was a frightening time, a frightening time.”

Grandpa looked wistfully at the bunker ceiling. “Of course that wasn’t the only problem. It was just a symptom of the disease, if you will. No, the real problem was the losin’ of the freedoms.” He was quiet for a while. The children waited silently, and politely, like all good God-fearing children were taught.

“You see, children, freedom is a funny thing. A very funny thing. If I give you a bit of freedom, then I have less of it, you see? You can’t just make freedom out of thin air. The only way someone gets more freedom is if they snatch it away from someone else. And that’s exactly what started happening. All sorts of people started takin’ our God-given freedoms, and keeping them for themselves.”

He shifted his feet uncomfortably. Everything Grandpa Santorum did looked uncomfortable; he looked like a man for whom the whole world was just a small rock in his shoe or burr in his sleeve, waiting to poke him again if he so much as twitched. “It started way back when, of course, before I was even born. We gave black people some freedom, we gave the womenfolk some freedom, and other folks, one group or another. But every time we gave them a little bit more freedom, we were takin’ it from ourselves. Soon we were giving freedom to Muslim folks—Muslim folks! Can you imagine? The women, now, they demanded a lot of freedoms. Let me talk to the doctor by myself, they’d say. Let me worry about my own choices, they’d say. We even had a ‘Violence Against Women Act.’ Now I ask you, as much as we’re all against violence here, isn’t it true that if you protect some folks from violence, well then you’re taking the freedom to be violent away from other folks? It’s pernicious, that’s what it is. It’s pernicious.” It should be noted here that none of the children knew what “pernicious” meant, but the way Grandpa said it made it clear enough that it was a bad thing.

“And the gays. That’s when it all came crashing down. The very slightly improved health insurance regulations, that was one thing, and the womenfolk getting all pissed off and demanding this and that, but it was nothing compared to the gay folk. Once we started giving them freedoms too, it was all over.”

“Whoa,” the children murmured appreciatively. “What happened then?” asked little Sally.

“Well you see, the more freedom we started giving the gays, the more freedom we were taking from other folks, same as every other time. We started taking freedom away from good churchgoing folks, by letting the gay people just say they were gay, with no shame at all. We started taking freedom away from people who hated gay people, because suddenly if you thought being gay was an abomination unto the Lord, maybe somebody else would object to you saying it, and then how would you feel? How outrageous.” He was beginning to getting worked up now.

“Then all Hell broke loose. They started letting gay folks get married. Same legal rights, even the same word, and we all know that the word of something is pretty much the only thing that matters. Can you imagine what happened next? Now why would a man get married to a woman if they could choose to just skip all that and marry another man? It was a mess. Why, I’m ashamed to say I myself turned gay for about 10 years, after that. Don’t know how it happened exactly, but the minute they started having gay weddings, it was like the Devil himself was egging me into that beautiful white dress.

“Yessir, everybody was getting freedoms. Everybody but the white Christian men anyway, you know, the ones of the right evangelical persuasion and political inclinations and all that. It was their God-given right to be gigantic assholes to everybody else, but slowly and surely, they started taking those rights away. Well, of course, you could still be an asshole to people, sure, but other people wouldn’t listen as much. They wouldn’t necessarily just do what you say. And when your whole freedom relies on telling other people what they should do, but you give the other people freedom to not listen to you, what do you really have? A whole lotta nothin’, that’s what. They might have their freedom. But you don’t have yours.”

His eyes were narrow, and his face grim. No doubt about it, Grandpa was angry just thinking about it.

“That’s what I mean. You give someone freedom, you have to take it from someone else. You start out with decent white Christian men of a certain persuasion and belief system protecting all the freedom, keepin’ it safe. Then you start parceling it out to others, and all you’ve got left is a system where everybody’s got some freedom, but the good white conservative Christian evangelical protestant and maybe Catholic, as long as they’re the right kind—they end up with practically nothing. They end up just being another face in the freedomy, freedomy crowd. Did you know that ‘freedomy’ and ‘sodomy’ rhyme? No coincidence there. No coincidence …”

By now his eyes were fully closed. His voice was trailing off, and it finally stopped there. Whether he was asleep or not, the children couldn’t tell. They waited a minute, and then two, and then five, but once the old man started snoring, they knew the story was done. “C’mon” said the bony tall boy, motioning to the others. “Let’s let him sleep now.”

The childen filed out of the dark, wet room, through the old wooden door, and into the bright sunlight of late afternoon. “I guess I gotta go to baseball practice now,” one said. “Yeah, I’m gonna go play Holobox,” said another. The group broke apart in various directions, some cutting through the shrubby trees to the west while others headed down the hill to the rows of tan houses below.

“Wow, you were right,” said little Sally. “Grandpa Santorum is really nuts.”

“Told you,” said the bony tall boy. “He’s totally bat-tron. I hear he used to be some big shot, a long time ago. He was even famous on the Internet. But he kept getting crazier and crazier and eventually he just broke his brain or something. Hey, my mom says not even to go near him, so don’t tell anyone, okay?”

“Wow,” Sally repeated softly. “Wow.”

They followed the other children headed down the hill. Grandpa Santorum’s old concrete bunker was a neat enough place, especially during the blistering hot days of summer, but there was only so much of that crap that anyone could take.

Editor's note: This story originally published March 25, 2012 at Photo from Gage Skidmore's photostream aged a bit by the magic of
Mike ”Hunter” Lazzaro

Mike ”Hunter” Lazzaro

As a Daily Kos contributing editor, Michael Lazzaro —a.k.a. ”Hunter”—has gained a reputation for passionate, explorative, and offbeat progressive writing. His wide-ranging essays and editorials are alternately probing and combative, provide stirring defenses of progressive and liberal ideals, and frequently explore the underlying dynamics of the progressive and liberal online communities themselves. An Internet consultant who currently makes his home in rural Northern California with his wife, child, and a varying assortment of animals, Michael helped design and build some of the very first e-commerce sites on the emerging World Wide Web.