Politics & Policy

Momma’s Boy

What Santorum did -- and Casey wouldn't have -- for one young Pennsylvania mother.

With just over a month until Election Day, Democrat Bob Casey Jr., looking to unseat Republican Senator Rick Santorum, has done an excellent job of not defining himself. Santorum, on the other hand, speaks regularly and directly about the Islamo-fascist threat we face. Perhaps Casey is counting on benefiting from that — hoping that voters will see Santorum’s wartime leadership and consider him the bad-news candidate for it; and read Casey as their softer, less hawkish, alternative. Some of Santorum’s supporters, however, are not going to let that happen. With a new ad release, they are working to ensure Pennsylvanians have a happy young mother to associate with the senator’s kinder, gentler side.

Two new ads (one audio, one TV) from a group called Softer Voices could serve to present a softer — but substantively successful  — side of Santorum. The ads recount the prominent role he played in changing welfare as we know it. And they play up how he simultaneously changed Americans’ lives — specifically, the life of a young black mother named Billy Jo Morton.

Morton is the star of the two ads that Softer Voices — a “527” issue-advocacy group formed by a group of conservative women, including former welfare-mom Star Parker — is rolling out today statewide.

Santorum describes his connection to Morton in his 2005 book, It Takes a Family. In it he writes:

When I was sworn into the Senate in 1995, I decided that since I was going to take an active roll in reforming welfare I had better see how it works firsthand. So I immediately hired five people on welfare, about 10 percent of my staff, to work in my Pennsylvania offices. Billy Jo worked for me in her first job off welfare in my Harrisburg office. She told me that until she was forced to move off the rolls she thought she was stuck with two kids at home and no chance for a better life. Billy Jo was a great employee. After a while, we provided her a flexible enough schedule that she could go to community college to pick up some college credits part-time. There she moved on to something better. She was offered a scholarship to finish her degree, which she did, in education. She is now working as a teacher. Hope is being restored.

Santorum continues:

This is what happens when you have enough faith in everybody to rise to take responsibility for their lives and to make the right choices. With welfare reform, the government stopped enabling destructive behavior. We changed the paradigm for unmarried women: having children no longer means life-long government support, but rather (as it should) work and sacrifice.

As Billy Jo puts it in the Softer Voices radio ad, “I could not tell him thank you enough for what he did for me. Because he gave me the chance I needed to become who I am today.”

Lisa Schiffren, one of the founders of Softer Voices, tells National Review Online: “We wanted to let Billy Jo Morton tell her story to show Pennsylvanians what Santorum’s principles mean in practice. Hiring her and helping her become a teacher and support her family is what he did privately — not for the cameras. … He has been accused of being anti-woman, anti-women working. This is the reality. So, we want Pennsylvania voters to get a glimpse of his deep personal commitment to building stronger families and making people self-sustaining.”

Santorum’s leadership on welfare reform stands in sharp contrast with his opponent, who, in 2002, told the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that “I couldn’t have voted for that” — the 1996 welfare reform. Of Bill Clinton and other Democrats who worked with the likes of Santorum on the transformational legislation, Casey said, “I just don’t agree with them.”

Ron Haskins, a welfare-reform expert at the Brookings Institution, has written: “The Census Bureau shows unequivocally that, in terms of employment, one of the biggest demographic changes and the most rapid ever in the history of any group, is this huge increase in employment by these low-income, poor mothers. And the biggest impact was on never-married mothers.” Casey wouldn’t have voted for Billy Jo and other mothers like her, in other words.

Softer Voices hopes that Keystone State voters will associate Billy Jo’s success story with Santorum when inside the voting booth. She — and Santorum’s leadership on welfare reform — provides a clear contrast between Santorum and Casey. A pro-life Democrat and the son of a former popular governor, Casey has done well avoiding labels. But his own words put him to the left of the mainstream of his party on an overwhelmingly successful domestic policy. By highlighting Casey’s opposition to welfare reform, Softer Voices has found a good way to make the choice crystal clear for Pennsylvania voters this November.

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

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