Is Rick Santorum’s favorite Marxist quote for real?

December 13, 2011

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


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It seems he uses this quote ironically, however, so using his usage of it in an attempt to paint him as some kind of closet Marxist is disingenuous. His point is that we often tell ourselves lies…***but that we should not.*** So, he’s using the quote to present a state of mind which is unnatural, a state of mind that should be ended, and that acknowledging the truth will allow this unnatural state to end.

As an example: We tell ourselves the lie that abortion is OK because it’s not really a person that it being vacuumed out of the womb. We lie to ourselves by ignoring the heartbeat (Sheila Jackson-Leigh labeled that heartbeat as the nonspecific “sounds”); by ignoring the unique DNA (when we tell ourselves that the woman has the right to choose what happens to her *own* body); by ignoring measurable brain waves; by ignoring the fact that fetuses feel pain; and by hiding from a prospective aborting mother the level of development of the fetus when, for example, she appears it the clinic 5 months into her pregnancy.

So, can his use of this quote be used to denigrate Santorum? I think the truth is otherwise, and the only way to believe that it can be is to tell ourselves a lie.

Posted by DaveAndersen | Report as abusive

“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.””

Speak for yourself Santorum. Some of us deal with cold hard truth day after day…in other words, REALITY. Only delusional people lie to themselves.

Posted by HAL.9000 | Report as abusive

Hi Hal- In fact, he is advocating that we NOT live a lie; that we open our eyes, minds and hearts to truths that as a society we are all too willing to ignore.

Posted by DaveAndersen | Report as abusive

(Rick Santorum) carries on a demanding, uphill campaign when he has a young daughter with a life-threatening disease whom he rarely gets to see.
– JL

One guy cheats on his wife for love of country.
Another guy abandons child for love of country.

One pill makes me nervous.
And one pill makes me cry.
– With apologies to Jefferson Airplane

Posted by FarRtWing | Report as abusive

Maybe Santorum got up one morning and told himself this was a quote from Christopher Lasch.

Posted by Bob9999 | Report as abusive

The premise here, that use of a quote equals endorsement of all of the ideas of the quote’s source, is flawed.

After all, I’m sure Herman Cain isn’t in the same intellectual camp as Pokemon.

Posted by BajaArizona | Report as abusive

you people are way too hateful!

Has ANYONE considered the fact that POSITIVE AFFIRMATIONS are lies that people try to teach themselves to believe?

“We all get up every day and tell ourselves lies so we can live.”

Ever do a job and try to tell yourself

… it’s NOT going to bother me today – it WILL BE better!

If you did – you lied like him, and me, and many others!

Posted by LoudAmerican | Report as abusive