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Satan and Santorum: Perspective from Reagan's Evil Empire Speech

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Editor’s note: A longer version of this article first appeared at The American Spectator.

The secular world today trembles and shudders at the sight of Rick Santorum speaking on 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 speech in Florida in 1983. In both cases, the secular left 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 Santorum’s speech for the first time yesterday, when America’s omnipresent force—Matt Drudge—posted a 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 echoed those expressed in Ronald Reagan’s historic Evil Empire speech. Santorum ruminated on evil, spiritual warfare, truth, vanity, sensuality, temptation, pride, education, abortion. Like Reagan, he fears that the “great political conflict” 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 America.

And then, like Reagan, Santorum finished with a message of faith-based optimism for the faithful: “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 as a bold, long-overdue utterance of searing truth about the USSR, which Reagan 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: “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 spoke on March 8, 1983 at the Orlando Sheraton. The audience was the National Association of Evangelicals. He began by thanking those present for their prayers. He cited his favorite quote from Lincoln, about being driven to his knees by the “overwhelming conviction” that he had nowhere else to go. He commended the crucial role of faith in democracy. “Freedom 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 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 underscored the evils pervading American life. “Our nation, too, has a legacy of evil with which it must deal,” said Reagan, pointing to the “long struggle of minority citizens for equal rights.” He insisted: “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 were among the Devil’s vicious victories.

Reagan cast America’s struggle as spiritual: “The real crisis we face today is a spiritual one; at root, it is a test of moral will and faith.” He referred to Marxism-Leninism as “the second oldest faith, first proclaimed in the Garden of Eden with the words of temptation, ‘Ye shall be as gods.’’’

Alas, Reagan finished with a burst of faith-based optimism, quoting 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.”

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.

Hang in there, Rick. Be not afraid.

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