Politics & Policy

Senator Do-the-Right-Thing

A soul thing -- of a man, of a senator, of a country.

Leave all your Oliver Stone biases at home when you go see his new film World Trade Center. It’s all-American and well-timed. This September will mark the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on American soil. And Americans — unless they happen to have a family member deployed or had lost someone on 9/11 — don’t generally seem to have a keen sense that we’re at war. This movie reminds us we are.

“For no other reason than it was the right thing to do.” These are the last words spoken by one of the film’s stars, Nicolas Cage, describing why rescue workers risked their lives, coming from near and far, to save the only 20 people who ultimately would be taken alive from the rubble of the Towers. They are words that parallel Rick Santorum’s steadfastness in the Senate.

Santorum, a Pennsylvania Republican, is up for reelection this year in one of the country’s most contentious races. He’s behind and he’s a lightning rod. But agree or disagree with him on the issues — abortion (he’s against), the war we’re in (he’s a better articulator of it than most of the White House) — you’ll have to agree there’s something fundamentally American about him.

Because he takes the lead on especially controversial issues, Santorum is vilified. He brings some of this on himself, mind you, by choosing the issues he’s going to go out on a line for; but he’ll tell you he’s just doing the right thing.

Santorum attracts much more than his share of nastiness. Google his name right now and you’ll get a sense of what he and his family have to put up with. (It’s a free country, but you probably don’t really want to — you might want to just take my word for it.)  His wife, God bless her, encourages him in his desire to serve. But it’s a sacrifice for more than the senator.

It is a choice, of course. He could have fewer headaches — and less public ones at that — as a well-paid lobbyist or lawyer. But when you ask him why the heck he wants a job that entails so much abuse and so much frustration — some of the latter caused by his own party — he responds knowingly, but with an obvious humility: “Right now is an important time in the history of our country,” he explained to me recently, with a sense of something bigger than himself he is participating in and being guided by. He believes he has made a positive contribution as a senator and has something more to offer. Going from Iraq discourse to just talking American to American, he explained that, for him, political service is just the right thing to do. And that’s what he knows he ought to do. Because that’s what we do.

He’s not alone, thankfully, even in D.C. If you don’t believe me, join me at a watering hole next time you’re inside the Beltway. I’ll introduce you to some of the most motivated, smart, (partisan, yes! I wouldn’t want them any other way.) young people in this country — men and women who love America and serve it as key Hill staffers. They work thankless hours and endure some ugly blows, but when you’ve got deeply held principles guiding you, you can handle it.

And that’s exactly the kind of guys I want representing me in the people’s body — the same kind of person who would go down to the World Trade Center as disaster struck — the same kind of guy who would risk his life in the military. Those guys on 9/11 Stone depicts had to endure something in intensity and whose horror most of us, thankfully, will never know. But they are the same kind of person you’ll find all across the fruited plain who values teamwork, faith and family — who wants to do the right things.

You can be Democrat or Republican and agree that’s what an American should admire in another — in our rescue workers, in our politicians, Democrat or Republican, Hollywood producer or senator. Because at heart, that’s just who we are.

 — Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

Copyright 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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