The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Is Santorum’s Vision . . . a Conservatism of 2000?


In the Thursday edition of the Morning Jolt, Rick Perry shares his thoughts on the Iowa caucus process, the mistakes of Bachmann are reviewed (with a thought on a possible future path for her), and then this big question for the week ahead:

Rick Santorum, Big Government Conservative?

A big portion of the debate in the coming week will focus on whether Rick Santorum’s vision of government can properly be classified as a rerun of George W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” or in some people’s eyes, “Big Government conservatism.”

For the prosecution, David Harsanyi at the Blaze:

New York Times columnist David Brooks recently celebrated his working-class appeal, newfound viability and economic populism, noting that the former Pennsylvania senator’s book “It Takes a Family“ was a ”broadside against Barry Goldwater-style conservatism” — or, in other words, a rejection of that Neanderthal fealty for liberty and free markets that has yet to be put down. Santorum’s book is crammed with an array of ideas for technocratic meddling; even the author acknowledges that some people “will reject” what he has to say “as a kind of ‘Big Government’ conservatism.”

Santorum grumbles about too many conservatives believing in unbridled “personal autonomy” and subscribing to the “idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do . . . that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom (and) we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues.”

Perhaps Santorum confuses libertinism with libertarianism, but for him “cultural issues” go way beyond defending the life of the unborn or opposing gay marriage. Santorum believes that conservatives should recognize “that individuals can’t go it alone,” which sounds a lot like the straw-man justification for nearly every state expansion in memory.

For the defense, Rush Limbaugh:

Conservatives do want an activist government defending what’s right and attacking what’s wrong. Big government may not be the term, but, for example: Conservatives do think that it’s the role of government to protect the sanctity of life, as does Rick Santorum. If government doesn’t, who else will? And it stems from our founding documents: Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. The Declaration of Independence.

Clearly the government has a role here in defending life. If they don’t, who will? Also, the government should be used effectively to fight crime. Conservatives are all for, for example, the government fighting illegal immigration. Now, is that big government or is that responsible government? Big government is being misused here when applied to Santorum. Big government as it’s used today means welfare state, and Santorum does not believe in a welfare state. So the left is playing a rhetorical game here, folks, and I want to alert you to this. “Big government” has a specific meaning today, and it means welfare state. It means redistribution. It means high taxes. It means command-and-control of the economy. And that’s not what Santorum believes. So the left knows that “big government” is a negative. It is a harmful term to attach to somebody, and that’s why they’re trying to attach it to Santorum. But Rick Santorum does not believe in the big government of Barack Obama. It’s totally different thing for him.

This will be a big, and worthwhile discussion in the coming week, perhaps lost in the avalanche of attack ads. Almost every Republican endorses “limited government” in the abstract. But what does that mean?

ADDENDA: Over in Politico, Bill Schneider offers this cheery thought: “This year’s presidential campaign will be a war of total annihilation.”

Tags: George W. Bush , Rick Santorum , Rush Limbaugh


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