There’s a time for every season under heaven. A time to win and a time to lose. But it’s never a time to forget principles. And if you don’t forget said principles, you’re a winner even when you lose.
That’s the lesson of Sen. Rick Santorum, who lost his race for reelection, but has a bright future and a loving family, and offers a lesson to us all.
In a farewell letter to his supporters, Santorum said, “People have asked me why I talked about unpopular things like the war … in this campaign. They asked, why didn’t you just talk about the projects you delivered or the things that you accomplished? … My answer is that those are the things in the past, and what leaders are supposed to do is to talk about things that our country confronts in the future … And I did, and I’m very proud of that. I do not rescind a word because those words are words that this country was not receptive to hear. … They are going to continue to hear those words from me.”
As Democrats celebrate their victory and the White House reaches out to them, those pictures of bipartisan comity will need to have something real behind them.
“Real” doesn’t mean Nancy Pelosi explaining that the war in Iraq not as a war but as a “situation.” “Real” means — at minimum — calling it what it is — a war. (And a war on Islamic fascism, as Santorum has called it, wouldn’t hurt either.)
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think the Democrats are going to get us killed. Well, at least not on purpose. But taking the wrong lessons from this past election would be dangerously wrong. Former Texas Republican Congressman Tom DeLay offered some excellent advice earlier this year when he resigned from Congress, wise advice for the folks in D.C. — especially the losing party — to remember: “It is not the principled partisan, however obnoxious he may seem to his opponents, who degrades our public debate, but the preening, self-styled statesman who elevates compromise to a first principle.” We believe different things. But we can have honest, open debates in this free country.
And we should.
On the morning after the election, President Bush reached out to the Election Day winners. He handed them their top wish — the head of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He also dissed Karl Rove, considered one of the four horsemen of the apocalypse in some left-wing circles, for not having had brains enough to pull off this election. Some of us hated the timing of the Rumsfeld exit — making a great patriot the convenient fall guy — but we understood the rationale. And as for Rove, he has enough electoral victories under his belt that he can take the executive ribbing.
But what we didn’t need that day was a presidential nod to one of the most unfortunate wins of the year. Bush said, of Santorum’s opponent, Bob Casey Jr., that “Senator-elect Casey … ran a very strong race.”
Casey’s race was not “strong.” What it was was smart: Casey was a weak candidate and knew it, so he ran a campaign based on not saying much and not taking positions. His winning strategy was to not even try. But while it was a good strategy, it was bad civics: It said that vacuity is better than leadership. One hopes that Casey won’t be the empty suit he was during the campaign, and that the president and his Republican colleagues will work with him on important issues. But Casey didn’t deserve this presidential shout-out. And Santorum, a praiseworthy public servant, deserved better.
I don’t relate this in a spirit of bitterness, but as a word of caution — as a reminder that some people who had to leave Capitol Hill left behind words that should be heeded. Leadership, strong principles: Post 9/11, no party should try to govern without them.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.
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