Santorum’s Tressel Gambit

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A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, wrapped in a vest. Photo: Scott Olson/2012 Getty Images

One of the odder political transformations of the campaign is Rick Santorum’s emergence, after years of nasty ultra-partisan culture-warmongering, as a cuddly working-class tribune. My explanation for this is the sweater-vest.

The sweater-vest signals wholesomeness. Sweater-vests are nonthreatening. But since a sweater-vest does not, of course, actually make you a good person, they are the perfect disguise for nasty men.

The iconic case here is obviously Jim Tressel, who spent years and years being touted as a paragon of virtue while running two deeply crooked college football programs. How did he manage it? The sweater-vest, a staple of the endless stream of laudatory profiles that sports reporters kept churning out in the face of mounting evidence of his corruption. And now we have Santorum, cloaking his vicious, narrow-minded politics in the same soft camouflage. When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in a sweater-vest.