By Fr. George Welzbacher
January 15, 2012
David Brooks is a New York Times slightly left of center, fiscally conservative, socially "moderate", East Coast Republican columnist. He is "pro-choice," on record as supporting a mother's supposed right to kill her unborn child. He is also a savvy veteran in sizing up the strength of various political trends. Therefore, without endorsing any single political candidate, may I present to those of you who are curious about how the election battles are shaping up Mr. Brook's "take" on the astonishing upsurge of Rick Santorum in the recent Iowa caucus vote.
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In Search of a Champion for the Working-Class Experience
(Reprinted from the New York Times)
St. Paul Pioneer Press, January 5, 2012
OTTUMWA, Iowa - The Republican Party is the party of the white working class. This group - whites with high school degrees and maybe some college - is still the largest bloc in the electorate. They overwhelmingly favor Republicans.
It's a diverse group, obviously, but its members generally share certain beliefs and experiences. The economy has been moving away from them. The ethnic makeup of the country is shifting away from them. They sense that the nation has gone astray: marriage is in crisis; the work ethic is eroding; living standards are in danger; the elites have failed; the news media sends out messages that make it harder to raise decent kids. They face greater challenges, and they're on their own.
The Republicans harvest their votes but have done a poor job responding to their needs. The leading lights of the party tend to be former College Republicans who have a more individualistic and even Randian worldview [cf. Ayn Rand, advocate of a radical, devil-take-the-hindmost individualism] than most members of the working class. Most Republican presidential candidates, from George H.W. Bush to John McCain to Mitt Romney, emerge from an entirely different set of experiences.
Occasionally you get a candidate, like Tim Pawlenty, who grew up working class. But he gets sucked up by the consultants, the donors and the professional party members, and he ends up sounding like every other Republican. Other times a candidate will emerge who taps into a working-class vibe - Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin. But, so far, these have been flawed candidates who get buried under an avalanche of negative ads and brutal coverage.
This year, Romney is trying to establish some emotional bond with the working class by waging a hyperpatriotic campaign: I may be the son of a millionaire with a religion that makes you uncomfortable, but I love this country just like you. The strategy appears to be only a partial success.
Enter Rick Santorum.
Santorum is the grandson of a coal miner and the son of an Italian immigrant. For years, he represented the steel towns of western Pennsylvania. He has spent the past year scorned by the news media - working relentlessly, riding around in a pickup truck to more than 370 towns. He tells that story of hard work and elite disrespect with great fervor at his meetings.
His worldview is not individualistic. His book, "It Takes a Family," was infused with the conservative wing of Catholic social teaching. It was a broadside against Barry Goldwater-style conservatism in favor of one that emphasized family and social solidarity. While in Congress, he was a leader in nearly every serious piece of anti-poverty legislation. On the stump, he cries, "The left has a religion, too. It's just not based on the Bible. It's based on the religion of self."
Santorum does not have a secular worldview. This is not just a matter of going to church and home schooling his children. When his baby Gabriel died at childbirth, he and his wife, a neonatal nurse, spent the night in the hospital bed with the body and then took it home - praying over it and welcoming it, with their other kids, into the family. This story tends to be deeply creepy to many secular people but inspiring to many of the more devout.
He is not a representative of the corporate or financial wing of the party. Santorum certainly wants to reduce government spending (faster even than Rep. Paul Ryan). He certainly wants tax reform. But he goes out of his way in his speeches to pick fights with the "supply-siders." He scorns the Wall Street bailouts. His economic arguments are couched as values arguments: If you want to enhance long-term competitiveness, you need to strengthen families. If companies want productive workers, they need to be embedded in wholesome communities.
It's hard to know how his campaign will fare after the late surge he experienced in Iowa. These days, he is a happy and effective campaigner, but, in the past, there has been a dourness and rigidity to him. He's been consumed by resentment over unfair media coverage. As his ally in the AIDS fight, Bono, once told a reporter, Santorum seems to have a syndrome that causes him to say the most unpopular thing imaginable.
But I suspect he will do better post-Iowa than most people think - before being buried under a wave of money and negative ads. And I do believe that he represents a sensibility and a viewpoint that is being suppressed by the political system. Perhaps, in less rigid and ideological form, this working-class experience will someday find a champion.
If you took a working-class candidate from the right, like Santorum, and a working-class candidate from the left, like Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and you found a few islands of common ground, you could win this election by a landslide. The country doesn't want an election that is Harvard Law versus Harvard Law.
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And for good measure our principal insert this week offers an additional appraisal of Mr. Santorum by another writer for the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg.
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January 4, 2012
After a Child's Death, a Religious Politician Became a Cultural Warrior
By SHERYL GAY STOLBERG .
WASHINGTON - As a teenager growing up in Butler, Pa., Rick Santorum spent Sunday mornings as an altar boy, taking wheelchair-bound veterans to Roman Catholic Mass. In the ninth grade, he announced his intention to hold elective office. "I'm going to be governor of Pennsylvania," he declared, according to his brother Dan.
Years later, as a married man and a member of Congress, Mr. Santorum wove these two strands of his life - his faith and his political aspirations - into one. Then, in 1996, when he was a freshman senator, his wife, Karen, delivered a child when she was just 20 weeks pregnant. The baby, a boy they named Gabriel, died after two hours.
"That's when I noticed a marked difference in Rick," said Robert Traynham, who spent 10 years as a Santorum aide. "He became much more philosophical, much more deeply religious. You could tell; he was walking with his faith."
That experience helped deepen Mr. Santorum's opposition to abortion, and he went on to become one of Washington's most outspoken cultural warriors. He prodded Congress to outlaw the procedure known as partial-birth abortion, broke with a Republican president, George W. Bush, over embryonic stem cell research and pushed for a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, insisting that it is "right for children to have moms and dads."
Those views helped put Mr. Santorum within a whisker of beating Mitt Romney in the Iowa caucuses on Tuesday night. Mr. Santorum has spent months waging a low-budget, shoe-leather-intensive quest for the Republican nomination; he visited all 99 counties in Iowa and moved his wife and seven children (including a disabled 3-year-old daughter) there for three weeks before the Ames Straw Poll last summer. Now, suddenly, he is a viable candidate.
"People have asked me how I've done this, sitting back at the polls and not getting a whole lot of attention paid to us," Mr. Santorum told supporters in Iowa on Tuesday night. "How did you keep going out to Iowa, in 99 counties, and 381 town hall meetings and speeches?"
"Well," he went on, "every morning when I was getting up in the morning to take on that challenge, I've required a strength from another particular friendship, one that is sacred. I've survived the challenges so far by the daily grace that comes from God."
Brash and blunt at 53, Mr. Santorum is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get politician, unapologetic if his views offend, which they often do. He once offhandedly invoked bestiality in arguing that states should have the right to regulate homosexual acts. 'That is not to pick on homosexuality," he said. "It's not, you know, man on child, man on dog." That prompted critics to create a Web site promoting a vulgar definition of his name. He is now feuding with Google, because the site comes up first on a search for him.
On the campaign trail, he makes the case that traditional marriage is one prescription for the nation's economic ills. During a swing through South Carolina this fall, he dropped in on a Christian radio station, where the host of the drive-time talk show, Tony Beam, asked Mr. Santorum how social issues would play in an election dominated by the economy.
Mr. Santorum did not miss a beat, launching into a long discourse on how single-parent homes spawn poverty and government intervention. "Government gets bigger," he argued, "when families get weaker."
Richard John Santorum grew up in working-class Pennsylvania, the son of an Italian immigrant father who eventually became a clinical psychologist at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Butler. Mr. Santorum's mother was the chief nurse there, and the Santorums - Rick is the middle child of three - lived in a small three-bedroom, one-bathroom brick house on the hospital grounds. Mr. Santorum bunked with his younger brother, Dan.
"Growing up, you had to be on your deathbed not to go to church," Dan Santorum said. "It was 200 yards from our house to walk to the church. Before Mass, my brother and I would get the patients who were not ambulatory and we wheeled them from their hospital rooms to the services. He served Mass and I would help wheel the patients up for Communion, and when it was over we would wheel them back and go home and have a family breakfast."
Dan Santorum said he and his friends laughed at his older brother when Rick declared he would be Pennsylvania's governor one day. But in college, at Pennsylvania State University, Mr. Santorum studied political science and eventually became state chairman of the College Republicans. He went on to earn a business degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a law degree from the Dickinson School of Law. He broke into politics working as an administrative assistant for a state senator.
Social issues were not high on Mr. Santorum's agenda when he first ran for Congress in 1990, said G. Terry Madonna, a political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College who has followed Mr. Santorum for 30 years. That year, Mr. Santorum narrowly defeated the Democratic incumbent, Doug Walgren, by painting Mr. Walgren as an absentee congressman who spent too much time in Washington - a charge that would later cost Mr. Santorum his Senate seat in 2006.
He arrived in Washington in 1991 and promptly made a name for himself (along with John A. Boehner, now the speaker of the House) as a member of the so-called Gang of Seven, who helped expose scandal in the banking practices of the House. All seven were freshmen, all had won in a difficult year for Republicans, and they felt emboldened.
"All of them were back-benchers who felt like they had been largely abandoned. by the national party and had a formula for success, which was connecting with blue-collar and nontraditional Republican voters on values and economic populism," said Ralph Reed, who at the time ran the Christian Coalition, an evangelical group. "They came into the House loaded for bear."
Mr. Santorum promoted school vouchers and changing the welfare system, blending his Roman Catholicism with a smaller-govemment philosophy that foreshadowed what Mr. Bush would later call his "compassionate conservative" agenda. (Mr. Santorum called it the "community renewal agenda.") In 1996, he was instrumental in passing the welfare overhaul that President Bill Clinton signed into law. He was already at work on the partial-birth abortion bill when his son died; it did not pass until 2003.
In a swing state like Pennsylvania, Mr. Santorum was an unusual breed - a conservative Republican who could win. In 1994, he ran for the Senate, ousting Harris Wofford, a Democrat. In 2000, after winning a second term, he became chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, a leadership post that gave him a platform. He used it.
"Conservatives liked him because he spoke their language," Professor Madonna said. "He was aggressive, and vigorous and very polarizing."
But by 2006, Mr. Santorum was in a tough political spot. He had championed Mr. Bush's agenda and was closely aligned with him, but the country, soured on the Iraq war, had turned against the president.
Mr. Santorum's finances also came under scrutiny amid disclosures that he was home-schooling his children at his family residence in Virginia while receiving money from a Pennsylvania school district to enroll them in "cyber school." He lost badly to Bob Casey, who remains in the Senate, and his political career was presumed dead.
Now Mr. Santorum's challenge is to position himself as a credible alternative to Mr. Romney with little money and hardly any staff. His friends say he is clear-eyed about the challenges. In New Hampshire, the next stop on the Republican primary tour, voters are far more animated by fiscal issues than the social causes that shape Mr. Santorum's political identity.
"We will be in New Hampshire," he told backers in Iowa on Tuesday night. "Well leave tomorrow. We'll spend our time there. And with your help and God's grace, we'll have another fun night a week from now.''
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