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For Santorum, Even After New Hampshire



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I want to be okay with Mitt Romney. And really, I am. I will vote for him. He’ll be fine. He’ll be good on the budget. He won’t cut enough, but no one does. He’ll be better than Dole or McCain would have been had they won. Not that they wanted to do much about the budget; he wants to. Could he please get McCain out of the picture now? It depresses me to watch him. Let McCain talk only on defense policy. A fizzled-out guy who ran a loser campaign so recently is not a good mascot. If Romney sticks with Christie as his warm-up act, he’ll be fine; except when Christie reminds us, as he inevitably does, why he should have gotten over himself and run. So we didn’t have to settle for Romney, even though he is very handsome, and has such a good work ethic for a rich guy who really does not have a clue what it means to have to make the choices that normal middle-class people always have to make — which is why we don’t really trust him. Have you ever noticed how the very rich have so much more sympathy for the non-working poor than for the boring old middle class? But really, Mitt’s wife will be a charming first lady, and he will be fine. Especially if he picks the right advisers. But why can’t he hire a conservative speechwriter, who knows the words and the music?

All along, as we watched debates, I kept telling my daughters that, really, Rick Santorum was very smart, and had important things to say. Unfortunately, he rarely got a chance to show it, until now. It’s probably too late, of course. But if he can’t be the candidate, he’d be a smart guy to have on the ticket if someone wanted to keep conservatives interested.

I first heard of Rick Santorum in the early fall of 1994. I happened to be at Longwood Gardens, in Delaware, for a weekend. I turned on a TV and heard this very scrappy, aggressive ad for Santorum’s Senate campaign in neighboring Pennsylvania. The signature line was: “Vote Santorum. Join the fight.” How could you not love that? It made me happy to know that he was joining our fight, and inviting others to come, too. It is really, really important that the Republican nominee — or a Republican president — always be conscious of the fact that everything he or she wants to do, wants to say, wants to convince the nation to understand and follow, will require a fight. A big, bloody, nasty fight, in which the other side will never give up, or cease questioning your motives, your sanity, your intelligence, and your grasp of “reality.” I feel very confident about him, because he is a scrapper by birth and training. He knows that politics is war by other means. While he learned to work with Democrats in the Senate, he harbors few illusions about them. (And his big political mistake — endorsing his fellow Pennsylvania senator, the bipolar liberal Republican Arlen Specter, against a conservative — occurred when he made a calculated exception to that instinct.)

#more#

Santorum has a coherent world view, stemming from traditional first principles. He explicitly acknowledges that you can’t have a self-governing, small state if families are weak, and don’t take care of their own. For that to happen, you need — families. Not households of people held together by affinities or love or shared rent, or anything else. Traditional, nuclear families, composed of legally married mothers and fathers raising their children, allocating tasks as they wish, while taking care of those children and earning a living, are the basic unit of a self-sufficient society. If there is an institution more embattled in America than the traditional family, I can’t name it. Santorum gets this, which is important, as the out-of-wedlock childbearing rate continues to hover at a civilization-ending, way-past-unsustainable 40 percent. Anyone who wants to cut the size and scope of the welfare state, or repeal Obamacare, really needs to comprehend what that figure means, going forward. Because very few of those single moms will ever be able to pay for health care or education for their children. This is true regardless of what one thinks of the status of gay relationships, abortion, Catholic doctrine, or the price of tea in China.

On top of this key insight, which the last two GOP presidents chose to ignore because it sounds emotional, religious, and down-market, Santorum is equally sound on foreign policy. He calls things by name — even Islamic terrorism. He is focused on the havoc that Iran with nukes can wreak. He knows we need a serious military force. On the economy, Santorum’s big departure from the rest is his concern about opportunities for skilled and less skilled labor. Maybe I’m too dumb to grasp why it’s okay to lose your entire manufacturing sector, and pretty much all other work for people who have strong backs, but can’t do highly abstract, intellectual work. Or how an economy flourishes if everyone is a home health attendant or community organizer. Or, maybe Santorum is correct, that we need to create incentives for industries that employ plain old workers. Better, even, to subsidize them one way or another if it comes to that, than to make everyone in the population with an IQ lower than 110 unemployable, and eligible for welfare, by whatever name.

As for the claim that Santorum is a spender — I can only say that there are two sides to conservative governance and spending. Yes, government should be small, and spend much, much less. But it also matters how you use the state’s money and power. Whatever government should or shouldn’t do, the reality is that if you want to get rid of welfare as we knew it, as Santorum did, you are going to have to pony up for some programs to train former welfare addicts, and get them into the workforce. Getting that woman working is a net gain, even if it is still costing taxpayers something. I remain impressed that then-Senator Santorum cared enough, after welfare reform, to go out and hire a few women coming off of welfare to work in his district offices. That showed personal commitment to helping people trapped in liberal welfare hell to get on with their lives. It demonstrates the character, and the heart you want in a leader. Name a liberal, moderate, or libertarian, who did the same. You can’t.

Santorum does not believe that the categories associated with “class” are useful in discussing how well the American economy is working. Economically, he is correct, since income is fluid. Socially, culturally, it’s a different matter. In our time, I’ve seen precious few cases of gentlemanly Episcopalians with august family trees, significant inherited wealth, and the expectation of political success who really grasp the degree to which life is a fight, and politics is war, let alone at the elemental level where that instinct needs to be lodged. The Bushes never got it. Their twin, Mitt, though technically not old school WASP by dint of being Mormon, doesn’t get it either. How do I know this? Even after prolonged exposure to the media, and other adversaries, from Kennedy to his GOP competitors, he expects to be treated with respect. That’s charming. But it’s a weakness.

I am happy and relieved to finally have a candidate to be “for.” Rick Santorum is a “principles politician.” And it’s far too late for me to get over being a “principles voter,” which may be kind of adolescent, especially since I never actually get to vote for anyone whose principles I truly admire, given the timing of New York’s primaries. I feel personal affinity for a thoughtful, generous politician who has an innate talent for finding the most polarizing way to say what he thinks. But even if it comes across priggishly sometimes, I respect his core belief that the traditional virtues and disciplines are, apart from their inherent moral value, required for a nation to be seriously self-governing. He’s totally solid. He’d be great on the ticket and would surely grow in the right directions, in office.



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