Mitt Romney has always certainly been right about one thing: This election is about starkly differing visions for America.
And by two visions I don’t mean two Americas. I’m talking about one America — an America where entrepreneurism and hard work are rewarded and where the strong institutions that create the conditions for economic growth — family, church, community, and school — are valued and supported.
The other vision is an America where government dependency is accepted and grows, and those foundational institutions — family, church, community, and school — remain neglected and diminished in the face of big federal bureaucracies. And I have no doubt which vision Governor Romney represents. It’s why I support him for president and why I will continue to work to unseat President Obama.
But the vision for America that I believe Governor Romney and I share is not one that only appeals to just 53 percent of Americans. Governor Romney is right to correct his recently released statements by talking about “the 100 percent.” Virtually all Americans want a better life for themselves and for their families, and those that accept some financial support from the government are almost certainly doing so in the hopes that it’s temporary. I know this because I grew up in Pennsylvania steel country with families who had bought houses and went to college on the G.I. Bill, received health care and benefits from the Veteran’s Administration, relied on Social Security in their retirements, and from time to time may have needed other help to feed their families. These people were not moochers. They were war veterans, teachers, coaches, and factory workers; the kinds of everyday Americans who have worked hard and made this country great.
And I know because I travelled through dozens of states, and hundreds of towns, over the past two years, shaking the hands of thousands of good Americans. Not rich Americans, or Americans with college degrees and fancy job titles. Most were retirees, blue-collar workers, families, church members, and the kinds of people who would give Mitt Romney their votes if they felt he understood them and offered a vision for a better life for their children. We had pizza together. We bowled together. A good many of these good people would fall into the 47 percent.
And to be sure, the entitlement culture and the deficit were of great concern to these folks. And I believe a campaign that talks tough on rolling back that decrepit culture and fighting the budget deficit and wasteful bureaucracy is absolutely necessary. Conservatives know this.
My advice is this: Cast a vision of America like another governor who ran for the presidency, and who won as a conservative. Let’s speak to the 100 percent of Americans about the shining city on the hill — people who want more opportunity and a better place for their families.
The good news is that there are policies that make up the rungs of the ladder to the American Dream. We’ve talked about what creates better opportunity and a better America, and the ladder of opportunity. Let’s support education reform, charter schools, more local and parental ownership, and job-training programs that prepare Americans and provide a clear pathway out of poverty. Let’s put forward a robust economic program that will get American working again, that will spur innovation, business formation, and job creation. Let’s advocate for fewer regulations and more incentives for job-creating manufacturing businesses to create economic opportunity
And let’s affirm the central role of marriage and the family in giving stability to children and communities in need, reinforcing a critical rung in the ladder up and out of poverty. As we know, people who marry before they have kids and finish high school are far less likely to ever live in poverty than those who don’t. The social science on this is quite conclusive, and as we share a broad vision, there are additional policies that we champion that will strengthen the family: tripling the Child Dependent Deduction; strengthening and returning to its original intent the Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood Initiatives; eliminating the marriage penalty in the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC); and ensuring that federal marriage-education funding is used for marriage education and not diverting into other activity.
Blessings often come in disguise. This is a teachable moment. As important as policy is the power of the soapbox. We need a government that understands that family is the foundation of liberty and justice and opportunity. There is still time to show the American people that vision — a vision for liberty, justice, and opportunity for all.
— Rick Santorum, a Republican, is a former congressman and senator from Pennsylvania. He is the co-founder of Patriot Voices.