One of the best aspects of elections in the United States is when people really do engage, discern, communicate and work for the future of our republic, on all levels. Renewed in activism by his presidential primary run, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum has a new book out on patriotism and patriots past. It’s called American Patriots: Answering the Call to Freedom, and he describes it as “part of an effort to remind us who we are and the ordinary people who did extraordinary things to win our freedom.” He talks a bit about those who play a starring role.
(Santorum is optimistic about Romney’s victory today and Pennsylvania’s contribution to it, by the way.)
KJL: If every American could meet at least one patriot from your book, who would you hope it would be, and why? Who would you especially like every elected official — whoever they may be in a few months — to meet?
RICK SANTORUM: I’d have to say John Laurens — a really important American figure — and few gave as much as he did to the Patriot cause. He was a very wealthy man with every comfort and advantage a man of his period could have, but he believed that all men, including the slaves owned by his father, had an equal claim to life and liberty. While fighting for independence and serving in General Washington’s Army, Laurens advanced a plan to arm slaves and grant them freedom in exchange for military service. This was obviously a very controversial proposal at the time. Laurens ultimately died in battle, fighting for his country, and he leaves behind a really interesting and inspiring story.
I’d also have to pick Thomas Nelson Jr. as someone I’d like every elected official to meet if indeed they could. He’s not widely known, but he was one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. He was a politician elected to the Second Continental Congress, and he served in the military as a Colonel in the Virginia Military. He did it all while also having serious health problems. He gave up much of his personal wealth to help fund his own troops, who fought heroically at the siege of Yorktown, among other battles. There are not a lot of politicians in this book, but there is a lot for politicians to glean from Nelson’s story.#more#
KJL: “There are so many Revolutionary heroes and heroines from all walks of life. In reviewing the sources, I was amazed that so many were just regular folk raised up by God for such a time as this. I have no doubt that these people who were involved in the Revolution suspected they were participating in a consequential time in the course of human history.” Why does everything have to be about God with you, senator? And doesn’t it limit your audience?
SANTORUM: That’s an interesting question coming from Kathryn Lopez. The overlay of this book is the Declaration of Independence, which includes, of course, the well-known passage that I repeat all the time, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
The Declaration established the heart and soul of America — God-given rights given equally to all people to pursue happiness. What the Founders meant by happiness was simply joy or pleasure, but true happiness comes when a person lives according to God’s will. America is a moral enterprise, with God-given rights to do what you ought to do and thus build a great society from the bottom up.
KJL: Where is your son Daniel Santorum in the book, whom you credit with adding some winning lines?
SANTORUM: Daniel wrote the dedication.
KJL: The immigrant story is the story of your family, as you remind us in the book. Do Republicans fluctuate between callousness and a lack of seriousness on the issue as a matter of policy?
SANTORUM: On immigration, I think Republicans fluctuate between adhering to the rule of law, and understanding the political difficulties that come from honoring the law. Republicans believe having a limit on immigration is a just law. We cannot allow open borders in an age where coming to the U.S. is so easy, unlike a century ago. We are sympathetic with the stories of otherwise decent, hard-working people who broke the law to come to America. However, millions sacrificed greatly to wait and come here legally, while millions more patiently wait, sometimes in great hardship to come here in accordance with our laws.
We would set a horrible precedent to have our immigration policy be dictated by politics and sentimentalism, instead of the rule of law.
So what message are we sending? Break the law and we will feel your pain and reward you, but follow the law and we will ignore your suffering.
KJL: “They were people from every walk of life who rose to meet the challenge of their day and who, in so doing, set forth a template that would inspire future generations of citizen patriots.” Who do you see following their lead today?
SANTORUM: First, I think we need to look to the men and women of our military who volunteer to sacrifice for our country. Second, the ordinary citizens who rose up and led the tea-party movement that asked us to adhere to our founding principles. And I’d absolutely include the pro-life, pro-family movement, who fight for virtue and truth and protect the weakest among us.
KJL: “Like the royalty during the Revolution, today’s elites wish to return to the pre-Revolutionary paradigm in which they, through government force, allocate rights and responsibilities.” Aren’t you one of the leading proponents of turning back the clock on women? How is this not just convenient, ingeniously timed spin?
SANTORUM: When government is the creator of rights, it can take them away or tell you how to exercise those rights. If life is whatever the government says it is, none of us will ever be safe. The elderly, the disabled, and the sick are already being targeted because of both their cost and lack of utility to society. Which leads to the insidious position that we have a duty to put them out of their misery.
KJL: You were on the ground talking about this issue: How is it that more people aren’t marching on Washington about the HHS abortion-drug, sterilization, contraception mandate? Is it perhaps not the big deal we’re making it out to be?
SANTORUM: The HHS mandate issue is a very telling reflection of the state of our current culture. Today’s culture has been dramatically affected by the sexual revolution — and the paramount importance liberals place on it. What popular and liberal culture values and promotes today, as the highest of all liberties, is instant physical and emotional pleasure. So this mandate is a sad commentary on the moral state of our country — and how debased it is that there are those arguing for a higher right than the freedom of conscience.
KJL: How is the title of this book related to the political-action committee, Patriotic Voices, you formed? Why did you release this during a presidential election? Was the hope some of your supporters might share it with undecided voters?
SANTORUM: This book and a movie called Sacred Honor are off-shoots of the PAC. They are both focused on trying to remind Americans of who we are. We also wanted to juxtapose this view of who we are with Barack Obama’s vision — and the Left’s vision — that seeks to transform us to something fundamentally different.
Who we are comes from the American Revolution and the Founding. We believe in God-given rights, individual liberty, giving individuals the opportunity to form communities, churches, businesses, and to build them from the bottom up.
President Obama’s view is more of the French Revolution model, where equality and liberty are not God-given rights and not for individuals. The rights belong to government and the government allocates rights collectively. This is a very different view. It’s a secular, statist idea of what is equal and fair for the whole as opposed to what is equal and fair for individuals as the driving force.
By reading the book you — voters — will get the conservative, American creed of liberty and what inspired every day Americans to make a great sacrifice to preserve individual liberty. Who we are. What our founders and our founding patriots did to protect who we are. This is what conservatives are trying to conserve today. That is the overall theme. I hope readers will enjoy.