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Remember former state representative Cynthia Davis? Remember her special blend of naive, petit-bourgeois self-righteousness, triumphalist religiosity and general dimwittedness? Although the term-limited Davis seems to have been too much of a good thing for otherwise crazy-loving Missouri Republicans – she lost her state senate primary race to the more traditionally respectable Scott Rupp – those of us who have been paying attention to the GOP primaries may feel a bit of Davis-tinged deja vu right about now. This feeling is especially acute when we consider primary contender Rick Santorum who shares Davis’ political DNA in spades.

Despite Davis’ failure in Missouri, Santorum’s current popularity in Iowa offers clear evidence that the GOP is far from forswearing his and Davis’ special brand of looney-tunes. While the Missouri GOP realized that Davis lacked the qualities essential to successfully represent the party, and while nobody really thinks Santorum is presidential material, they both equally embody the authoritarian and exclusivist social and religious strains that serve to rev up a sizable segment of the GOP base.  

An excellent example of this GOP cultural model is provided by the particular approach to the problem of resurgent poverty that both Santorum and Davis promote. They seem to think that if you could just force folks (men and women, that is, none of that gay stuff) to get married and stay married, no matter what, poverty would magically go away.  

During her tenure as Chair of the Missouri House Interim Committee on Poverty, Davis’ authored a report (pdf) that is full of gems gleaned from the testimony of exactly two witnesses, both from right-wing religious organizations, one of which, the Ruth Institute, touts marriage between “one man, one woman for life” as its raison d’etre, and from a tour of Sunshine Ministries, an evangelical, faith-based, anti-poverty organization. Not surprisingly, six of the nine conclusions offered in the report seemed to be based on the belief that to cure poverty we only need to promote marriage.

Santorum, for his part, is sure that a simple two-step process will end all poverty for all time:

Number one, graduate from high school. Number two, get married. Before you have children, […] If you do those two things, you will be successful economically. What does that mean to a society if everybody did that? What that would mean is that poverty would be no more. If you want to have a strong economy, there are two basic things we can do.

There’s nothing wrong with encouraging folks to get an education, nor can the importance of a strong family structure be underestimated; it only stands to reason that people working in tandem usually have twice the resources as those who try to go it alone. But conservatives like Santorum and Davis manage to  get it all backwards. A recent report (pdf) from the Economic Policy Institute analyzes  the available data on the relation between marriage and poverty in the African-American and Latino communities and concludes:

Continually high poverty rates among blacks and Latinos are the result of high unemployment and incarceration rates and declining shares of good jobs in the American economy. The decline of marriage in these groups is a collateral consequence of these negative economic conditions. We can address these problems with full-employment in good jobs and comprehensive criminal justice reform. These policies would not only lift large numbers of Latinos and blacks out of poverty, they would also provide significant benefits to all other racial groups. Additionally, these policies would provide more white, Latino, and black men with the economic security they need to get married.

In other words, instead of broken marriages and out-of-wedlock births leading to poverty, poverty leads to broken marriages and out-of-wedlock births which, in turn, reinforces the whole cycle. Forcing people to get married and stay married won’t provide employment when all the jobs have been shipped off to foreign countries. But blaming the evils of poverty exclusively on individual marital choices does let the rest of us off the hook when it comes to addressing the conditions that make stable family relationships difficult to maintain. Plus, it’s always so gratifying to tell other people what they should do – which is, of course, to be more like us.

It’s probably worthwhile to note that Santorum and Davis are selective in their embrace of the miracle powers of marriage. They don’t agree at all with the Huffington Post‘s Amanda Terkel, who notes that by the Santorum/Davis logic, allowing same-sex partners to marry would “increase the number of marriages in the country and theoretically lower the nation’s poverty rate.” Marriage champion Davis is now the executive director of by an anti-gay marriage group – and Santorum’s position on the issue is notorious. They both argue that by increasing the scope of marriage and permitting even more people to share in its benefits, we will undermine the institution for those who are currently permitted to enter it. In their view of the world, there just doesn’t seem to be enough marriage to go around and heterosexuals have dibs on what there is.

Such observations, however, presuppose that the proponents of the miracle marriage cure actually care about logical consistency, which certainly, given their shared tendency to cast their arguments in terms of caricature, doesn’t seem to be the case. However, the rest of us ought to care – one of these clowns is actually being taken seriously – more or less – as a possible candidate for President of the United States, and the more absurd his utterances, the more the the entire political theater will shift into the realm of the ridiculous. We managed to get rid of Davis, what will it take to exile the Santorums of the right from the political sphere?