I’m genuinely curious, do many conservatives actually think this way, or is this just the odd rant of a strange presidential candidate?

At a campaign stop in Iowa this weekend, former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) doled out a frothy mixture of revisionist history about what it was like to be alive in the late 1700s:

“Our founders said [our] rights were given to us to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Does anyone here believe that first inalienable right is as whole as it was at the time of our founding? It isn’t. Does anyone believe that our freedom is as whole as it was at the time of our founders? It is not.”

Now, I enjoy debates about the colonial era as much as the next guy, but I like to think even conservatives wouldn’t find this persuasive. Our freedoms are less “whole” now than they were in the late 18th century? And whose freedoms would those be?

For all the marvels of that era, African Americans were bought and sold as property and women were at best second-class citizens. Worker rights didn’t exist; gay rights weren’t even in their infancy; religious discrimination was fairly common; and voting rights were severely restricted. This was, incidentally, also an era that tolerated the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

In no way is pursuing happiness more difficult now than it was 224 years ago. Our freedoms have expanded enormously. If Santorum believes we should turn back the clock on American liberties by more than two centuries, that’s horrifying (or at least would be, if there was even the slightest chance he would ever hold public office again).

“Does anyone believe that our freedom is as whole as it was at the time of our founders?” Put me down for “our freedom is far more whole now.”

As Ian Millhiser and Scott Keyes concluded, “[M]aybe before Santorum pretends to know what ‘freedom’ looks like, he should take a moment to actually read about the amendments to the Constitution and then spend just a few minutes learning about what so many of them were put into our founding document.”

That’s good advice.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.