Rick Santorum has a work ethic like nobody else. As he launched his campaign today, this work ethic made his signature issue the needs of the average “working family.”
“Working families don’t need another president tied to big government or big money, and today is the day we are going to fight back!” Santorum said at Penn United Technologies, a manufacturing company located near his childhood home.
The Democrats are flinging working-class white voters at the Republican Party by their intensifying racialization of politics. Someone within the GOP coalition needs to emerge as the voice of the modest-income workers repelled not only by the Democrats’ social values but also by their dismissal as racist of these voters’ legitimate economic concerns.
So far, so good.
Here’s my problem with Rick Santorum’s approach.
I am not at all convinced that electing Rick Santorum, on the economic platform he unveiled, is going to help the people he wants to help. Santorum is one of many GOP candidates who have yet to clearly define why the American worker hasn’t received a pay raise in a decade or more, while the cost of family basics continues to rise.
The solutions he offers — anti-regulation, flat tax — seem boilerplate. The integration of anti-immigration into his economic message might be politically potent (or might drive away Latino working families), but it is bad economics.
What should a conservative economic populism look and sound like? I have a suggestion for Rick Santorum and for other GOP candidates struggling for an economic message that will stand out, and will respond to voters’ core concerns: Talk to George Gilder.
Next week in New York City, George Gilder will release a new information theory of money. Gilder’s 21st-century case for gold contains the most searing indictment of the current Washington/Wall Street alliance I have ever seen. Gilder argues that the combination of regulatory and monetary policy is starving both Main Street and Silicon Valley of the capital it needs to grow good American jobs. Washington is enriching Wall Street bankers, who in turn pay off their Washington friends, and in the process immiserate the middle class.
This from the man who wrote the bible of the Reagan administration, Wealth and Poverty.
If Gilder is right, the key to economic growth is not in the tax code but in the financial regulations that punish knowledge brokers’ investments and in the monetary policies that reward bankers for funding government rather than the real economy. (Full disclosure: I work for the American Principles Project and helped this essay see the light of day.)
It offers a whole new pathway to conservative economic populism, if there is a leader able to see and to seize it.