Is Rick Santorum’s favorite Marxist quote for real?
By James Ledbetter
The views expressed are his own.
Which is stranger: the idea that on the campaign trail GOP presidential longshot Rick Santorum cites favorably a quotation from a quasi-Marxist social critic? Or that the quotation itself might be spurious?
For years, Rick Santorum has said that one of his favorite sayings is: “We all get up every day and tell ourselves lies so we can live.” He attributes it to the iconoclastic historian and social critic Christopher Lasch, best known as the author of The Culture of Narcissism, a hugely popular jeremiad against modern American capitalism published in 1979.
Santorum likes the quote enough to cite it in a variety of contexts. In 2004, he used it during a Senate debate to explain his opposition to same-sex marriage. In a Washington Post article this week, he appeared to use it to explain how he carries on a demanding, uphill campaign when he has a young daughter with a life-threatening disease whom he rarely gets to see.
The Santorum-Lasch nexis is odd for at least two reasons. One is that Santorum typically positions himself as a pro-life, family-values conservative. By contrast, while it’s hard to quickly summarize Lasch’s views, he came out of the Marxist-influenced left and retained a strong distaste for American conservatism even as his own later views on some subjects–notably family, abortion, and various aspects of the women’s movement–alienated many former allies.
But more importantly, there is no easily available proof that Lasch said what Santorum attributes to him. A Google search for the specific quote shows a handful of references, but mainly from Santorum himself, and none with a specific citation to any Lasch book, article, or interview. Popular online quotation aggregators, such as BrainyQuote, offer dozens of better-known Lasch observations–e.g., “Conservatives unwittingly side with the social forces that contribute to the destruction of traditional values”–but not Santorum’s favorite. My colleague Paul Smalera suggests that it sounds more like the first line of Joan Didion’s book The White Album: “We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
The Santorum campaign isn’t much help. A Santorum staffer said in an e-mail “I know if you Google the quote it comes up,” but was not able over the course of several hours to provide a specific citation to any Lasch work.
Lasch experts, meanwhile, are stumped. “This is a mystery. The quotation is not familiar to me,” said Eric Miller, professor of history at Geneva College in Santorum’s home state of Pennsylvania, and author of Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch, published to much praise last year. Miller said that while it’s possible Lasch could have said something like this in an off-the-cuff interview, “frankly, it really doesn’t sound too much like Lasch’s voice to me.”
Historian Kevin Mattson at Ohio University–who studied under Lasch, has published articles about him, and discussed his influence on Jimmy Carter’s famous “malaise” speech in his 2009 book “What the Heck Are You Up To, Mr. President?”–-is similarly at a loss. “That has to be one of the weirdest quotes I’ve seen,” Mattson told me. “It doesn’t sound like something Lasch would say.”
Of course, no one can prove definitively that Lasch never said anything like this to anyone (and if the Santorum campaign comes back with a citation, we’ll update this post). If Santorum really is that well-versed in the works of an acerbic critic of American life who was deeply steeped in Marx and Freud, at least that gives GOP voters something to distinguish him from others in the race.
PHOTO: U.S. Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum speaks at the Principal Financial Group during a campaign stop in Des Moines, Iowa, December 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jim Young