No-Fault Freedom vs. Responsible Liberty

“Conservatives,” says Rick Santorum in his book It Takes a Family, “are the caretakers of a precious inheritance.” That inheritance rests on stable families. Yet the “village elders,” a name he gives to the liberal social engineers who operate in the spirit of Hillary Clinton’s tome It Takes a Village, don’t really care about stable families. It the family structure were to prevail, it would rob the village elders of their self-appointed role as the redesigners of America from on high.

Santorum confesses that one of his fundamental beliefs about American politics was wrong. He had always believed “that conservatives and liberals had the same vision of America, but just had different ways of getting there.” Both wanted the poor “to achieve economic self-sufficiency,” but, he admits, “I don’t believe that anymore.”

Liberals, he notes, have an entirely different definition of freedom. He calls it “No-Fault Freedom” where people can do whatever they want, practically without limits—“all the choices, none of the responsibility.” Conservatives, on the other hand, prefer the word “liberty,” which couples freedom with responsibility “to something bigger or higher than the self. It is the pursuit of our dreams with an eye toward the common good.” This is a definition based on Biblical roots.

The foundational social unit that instills a devotion to such liberty and that stands against No-Fault Freedom’s toxic effects is the traditional family. Strong families generate values and virtues. They are moralistic, and so they are moralizing. They teach right from wrong. Healthy families are our first strike for what is right and our first defense against what is wrong in America today.

The crux of Santorum’s argument is that only through selflessness as learned in families will this nation be strong and liberty protected. What he offers is the opposite not only of liberalism’s big government approach, but also of libertarianism’s atomistic individualism that promotes selfishness. Santorum doesn’t throw libertarianism into the mix at this point in the book, but I added it because I believe it is also a major problem, although not as pervasive as liberalism. Liberals, he explains, “don’t believe in the importance of strong, traditional families.”

For a raft of reasons, the village elders view the strong, traditional, married-mother-and-father family as contrary to their social agenda. They think of society as fundamentally made up of individuals guided by elite and “expert” organizations like government, not the antiquated, perhaps uneducated, independent family. The village elders want society to be individualistic, because a society composed only of individuals responds better to “expert” command and control. Your father or your grandmother (or your priest or rabbi) may give you advice that contradicts the latest “expert” wisdom. The village elders just don’t want such competition.

I like Santorum’s perspective here, and I will come back to it, and to a fuller discussion of the significance of families, in a future post.

Santorum: Liberal & Conservative Visions Contrasted

I said yesterday that I would begin analyzing Rick Santorum’s book It Takes a Family. I’ve completed about one-third of the book already because I’ve found it to be a compelling read. Before getting into specifics, I have some general comments:

  • First, I am finding this book to be a serious discussion of principles and policies related to those principles. It is not a piece of campaign fluff. In fact, since it was published in 2005, it hardly was written as a campaign biography for this year. It instead is a thoughtful evaluation of the cornerstones of a vibrant and successful society, what is eroding those cornerstones, and what we must do about it.
  • Second, Santorum clearly sees the family as the primary cornerstone upon which the entire societal edifice is based. This certainly resonates with my own views, but I find Santorum’s enunciation of this thesis to be one of the strongest statements of this principle that I’ve ever read.
  • Third, it is clear to me that Santorum is not simply repeating old nostrums in a mechanical manner. He truly is dedicated to his theme of recovering societal health via building strong family bonds. This is more than an academic exercise for him; he is speaking from the innermost man, sharing his heart and soul.
  • And finally, I’m rather surprised at the effect reading it is having on me. I expected to agree with most of what he would be sharing, but there has been a stirring in my spirit as I read. The essential truths he is communicating, truths I’ve long believed, seem fresh and more vital than I anticipated. I thought I would have to trudge through a book that repeats everything I know already, but I find myself eager to continue reading as he lays out his argument step-by-step.

Santorum does hit at the liberal failings, quite understandably so, as those failings are an essential part of his argument. Yet he devotes far more space to the positive solutions and to anecdotes of successful individuals and organizations who are tackling societal problems. His first chapter begins with a clear contrast between the liberal and conservative visions of the good society:

The liberal news media, Hollywood, and the educational elite in America tend to portray political liberals as the courageous champions of the average guy—and, of course, the poor. It is simply assumed that their more “enlightened” economic policies are all about helping the poor and middle class. Conservatives, on the other hand, are portrayed as fundamentally selfish, self-interested individuals, whose economic policies are crafted to protect or advance their (or their golf partners’) “special interests.” I will argue in this book that liberal economic policies have not only been devastating to the poor and the middle class economically, but have actually undermined the basic structures of our society. I will also argue that both conservative economic policy and conservative efforts to help the poor help themselves are more genuinely compassionate—and effective—than the liberal alternative.

Santorum’s focus on policies that help the poor becomes a primary theme of the book as it progresses, undercutting the liberal mantra that conservatives don’t care about anyone but the rich. His contrast between the two visions of American society continues:

Another view the media echo chamber promotes is that liberal social policies are rational, tolerant, progressive, and caring. Social conservatives, on the other hand, are portrayed as irrational, ignorant, rigid Bible-thumpers obsessed with prophesying woe. In this book, I hope to show that this all-too-common caricature of conservatives and their social policies by the liberal elite can be attributed to liberals’ fundamentally different vision for America—a vision that is completely at odds with that of our nation’s founders, and with the views of most Americans today. Liberalism is an ideology; conservatism is common sense.

Even those who don’t consider themselves conservatives, Santorum believes, can sense something is wrong, seriously and foundationally wrong, with the direction of the country. Our problem is that we tend to think government is the source of the solutions:

We too readily look to those wielding power and influence to solve society’s big problems for us—in particular, we look to the government. And why not? They are “society’s” problems, and the government is society’s representative. But over the past generation we have been learning that governmental, cultural, social, moral, and intellectual power brokers in far too many cases have made our problems worse. This has created a vicious downward spiral in which the more the public relies on the powerful elite, the worse it gets, which leads to the public relying on these elites even more.

That doesn’t sound like a man who wants to increase the government’s oversight in our lives, as some of his critics contend. In a couple of days, I’ll continue this analysis. Hope this was a good start that makes you want to know more.

It Takes a Family: The Santorum Political Philosophy

Lately, I’ve been drawn to Rick Santorum’s candidacy for the presidency. As I mentioned in a previous post, I had dismissed his chances from the start. But after seeing the weaknesses of the other candidates, even before he came in second in Iowa, I was beginning to view him differently. The more I’ve learned, the more I like.

Since I’ve paid close attention to politics for nearly four decades now, I already was familiar with some of Santorum’s background. I knew he was considered a conservative, and I had many reasons to be pleased with his stances, particularly his steadfastness on pro-life. I still distinctly remember, though, his endorsement of Arlen Specter for reelection as senator from Pennsylvania, despite a distinctly more conservative challenger. I was dismayed that Santorum would turn his back on someone who was more in line with his own beliefs. Yet I understood, to some extent—Specter had supported him, so it was expected he would return the favor.

That incident was incongruous with his overall record, and I was disappointed when he lost his reelection bid in 2006, but he wasn’t the only one to do so in that very bad year for Republicans.

The Florida primary is two weeks away. At this point, I will be voting for Santorum because I believe he has far more positives than negatives.

I desire to learn more about his basic philosophy of government and culture, so I ordered the book he authored a few years ago, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good. I have begun reading it so I will have a better grasp of his principles and goals. As I venture further into it, I’ll report back on what I find.

So if you are interested in knowing more about Santorum and his beliefs, and especially if you are in South Carolina or Florida, you might want to check back on this blog the rest of this week, and probably beyond, as I offer a synopsis of Santorum’s political philosophy.

Principles & the Presidential Race

I’m very disappointed in Newt Gingrich. I was looking seriously at his candidacy for a while. I respect his intellect, and I was giving the benefit of the doubt that he may have changed from earlier years. I am not a supporter of Mitt Romney, as regular readers of this blog can attest. Yet the attack Newt has delivered on Romney’s years as a venture capitalist smacks of pure opportunism. He knows full well that a venture capitalist takes over failing companies to try to turn them around, and that in the process some people lose jobs. If he is successful, in the long run, more people gain employment. Newt knows this. But apparently, out of desperation and desire to hit back at some equally unfair accusations against him by Romney supporters, he has decided to sound like a Wall Street Occupier. He may deny that is what he’s doing, but I think it’s painfully obvious.

Less noticeably, yet just as vehemently, Rick Perry has jumped on this bandwagon and cleverly referred to Romney as a “vulture capitalist.” Very funny. At one point, I was prepared to support Perry as well. That budding support ended abruptly while watching one of the debates. Now that he’s added a dishonest attack on the free enterprise system on top of bad debate performances, there is no way I would even reconsider voting for him as the presidential nominee. This is not personal. I’m sure I would like him personally. But he has not handled himself in a manner that gives me any confidence in him as a national leader.

If either of these contenders had focused instead on the socialized healthcare Romney introduced into Massachusetts and his refusal to renounce that initiative, they would have had firm ground on which to criticize him. Yet they instead decided to play into Obama’s hands by trashing Romney as a hardhearted type of capitalist. You see, that’s the basis on which Obama hopes to win reelection: paint the Republican nominee as a tool of the rich and an oppressor of the working man. Classic class warfare. Classic Marxist ideology.

Why are Republicans who should know better catering to the class warfare argument? It will only come back to bite them in the end. The short answer, as I noted above, is that they believe it will help them overcome the lead Romney now has, and that it will give them a fighting chance to get the nomination.

Poor judgment. Utter selfishness. Unprincipled.

This has been a stain on the Republican party, and it saddens me. In this midst of this turmoil, Rick Santorum has refused to join the ranks of the unprincipled. While critiquing Romney on legitimate grounds, he has nevertheless defended the role of a venture capitalist. For this, he deserves the gratitude of an electorate seeking a candidate who has solid beliefs [whether you agree with all of them or not] and who maintains the proper character for someone running for the highest office in the land. I don’t know if Santorum is going to stumble in some way in the coming days, but I’m hopeful he will provide an alternative to what we have been witnessing. I can say without qualification that if the Florida Republican primary were held this day, Santorum would have my vote.

Let’s reintroduce principle into our politics.

Foolish Reasoning?

New Hampshire went for Mitt Romney last night. Not exactly a surprise. He owns a home there; he’s pretty much been campaigning there since the 2008 election. And New Hampshire is not Iowa. Approximately 26% of New Hampshire residents have no religious affiliation whatsoever, which is above the national average. Further, the primary process allowed anyone to participate as a Republican, even if just for a day. That’s why Romney could rack up a substantial score, as a number of moderate Democrats undoubtedly crossed the line this time. That also explains Paul’s second-place finish, as he, because of his foreign policy stance, attracted what I call the Dennis Kucinich wing of the Democratic party to his banner.

My concerns about Romney have not been assuaged over time. What concerns?

What is also bothersome is the spin the media places on the win. Due to his razor-thin “win” in Iowa [it more accurately could be called a tie with Santorum] and now his victory in New Hampshire, some are concluding the race is over. I do understand the psychology of that, but it doesn’t necessarily comport with reality. New Hampshire sends a whole twelve delegates to the Republican convention. Twelve. Out of more than two thousand.

Additionally, South Carolina, the site of the next primary, is not New Hampshire. In some ways, it comes closer to resembling Iowa in its perspective. New Hampshire should not, by any stretch of logic, be considered the final say on the nominee.

I continue to believe that Romney could lead the Republican party in an entirely wrong direction should he become the standard-bearer. They’ve tried his type of candidate before—anyone remember President Dole or President McCain? What the party really needs is a stalwart on conservative principles who also can reach out to what have been termed “Reagan Democrats.” I personally believe that person is Rick Santorum.

But the odds are that Republicans will mess it up again by their erroneous assumption that only a moderate can beat Obama. To me, such reasoning is foolishness, and it will hurt them in the long run more than they realize.

Having said all that, I now find myself in the somewhat strange position of defending Romney from some of his critics, namely Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman, and Rick Perry. The tack they’ve taken lately—accusing Romney of destroying lives through the company he ran previously—comes right from the Democrat playbook. In fact, some of the rhetoric being used against him aligns more with the Occupy Wall Street Movement/Fiasco than with sound economic principles. This smacks merely of political opportunism, pushing a populist message that they hope will reverse the course of the nomination process in their favor. For Gingrich, there’s also the flavor of revenge for what Romney’s minions did to him in Iowa.

The two candidates who did not pile on with this discreditable ploy were Paul and Santorum. They maintained integrity in this matter.

What’s it going to come down to?

Ultimately, regime change is the goal. I just want it to occur with solid principles and with someone I can trust.

The Santorum Surprise

Eight votes. That’s all that separated Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum once the Iowa caucuses ended. Technically, Romney was the winner, but one has to excuse Santorum for feeling as if he took the prize. Two weeks ago, no one saw this in the making; one week ago, though polls showed a Santorum surge, few could have guessed it would turn out this way.

Even the speeches given by both at the end of a long night marked the contrast: Santorum’s was, as many have commented, inspiring and from the heart, while Romney’s was a rehash of campaign rhetoric. Another factor that impressed me was the way Santorum identified with blue-collar workers because that was his family’s background. The story of his grandfather was Reaganesque, and while nearly every candidate has taken it upon himself or herself to embrace the Reagan mantle, Santorum has come closest to the actual spirit of the 40th president. One of the keys to Reagan’s success was his ability to relate to the so-called “common man.” If Santorum can do the same, he may continue to surprise.

What does this mean for him going forward? The climb to the nomination will be steep regardless of the Iowa infusion of adrenaline. New Hampshire, the first primary state, is Romney territory. Can Santorum build on his momentum and carve out a niche there large enough to keep the buzz alive? It’s then on to South Carolina, whose primary voters are more like Iowa’s than New Hampshire’s. Can he pull out a clear-cut victory in the Palmetto State?

One positive factor for him is the withdrawal of Michele Bachmann from the race. The most conservative candidates—Santorum, Bachmann, and Perry—have split the conservative vote. Now that she is no longer on the ballot, that could help Santorum. Although her numbers were not high in either New Hampshire or South Carolina, even a few more percentage points could make the difference. If Santorum had Bachmann’s 5% in Iowa, he would have run away with the top spot.

It looked like Perry was going to drop out as well, only to surprise even his own team by deciding to move on to South Carolina. That’s too bad. I like Perry, but he has no real chance at getting the nomination. His only contribution now will be to draw votes from Santorum, thereby giving Romney a greater opportunity to stay at the top.

The case with Gingrich is somewhat more complex. He is angry, and that anger is directed at Romney. He already has a full-page ad running in New Hampshire newspapers contrasting his conservatism with Romney’s moderate stance. He’s fighting back. That could re-energize his campaign, which might lower Romney’s numbers, yet it also could detract from Santorum’s, thereby creating a wash and maintaining the status quo.

Ron Paul, meanwhile, by coming in third, will put the best face on the result, but has to be disappointed. So many of the polls had him number one; perhaps his foreign policy views finally caught up with him. As I’ve said before, I wouldn’t feel safe with Paul as commander-in-chief. He doesn’t really grasp the dangers we face from radical Islam. Let’s be honest: he’s more of a libertarian than a Republican. Iowa was his best shot; it will be downhill from this point for him. It’s time to pack it in and reject calls for a third-party candidacy that can only end in the reelection of Obama.

No matter what happens in New Hampshire, the race will not be decided there. Neither do I think South Carolina will serve that purpose. As a Floridian, I’m glad I will be able to participate in a primary with significance later this month. The media may want to call this for Romney at every point along the way, but that will be premature. Keep watching for surprises. I have this feeling there are more in the offing.

The Current Crop of Contenders

As a historian, I believe I’m somewhat prepared for less than perfection. I mean, in studying history, one realizes that the really principled people are fewer than they should be, and that we have to settle, more often than not, for less than the ideal. That applies to policies and people.

As I ponder the lineup of contenders for the Republican nomination this year, I’m reminded of that historical lesson. The two top prospects that I had counted on running opted out, leaving a field of potential nominees that are more flawed than usual, in my view. Now that doesn’t mean all are flawed in character, but there’s something in each one that makes him/her far less suited to the presidential role than others I would have chosen.

The one man who keeps bobbing to the surface is Mitt Romney. Conservatives are highly suspect of him, and rightly so. The apologist for Romneycare can hardly be expected to take it to Obama for his dramatic overhaul of the nation’s healthcare system. Any arguments Romney uses against Obama on that front won’t carry much conviction. In fact, it’s in the area of conviction that he’s questioned the most. Is he really pro-life? Is he squishy on homosexual marriage, based on his experience in Massachusetts? Those are important to me, and quite frankly, I don’t trust him. This is why he has a hard time staying on top of the polls. There are simply too many issues about his “core”:

Meanwhile, the conservatives can’t find one candidate around which to rally. Santorum is appealing to some, and he just got the endorsement of a key family issues organization as well as one of the leaders of social conservatives in Iowa. Will that make a difference? How does he overcome the image of a loser after his overwhelming defeat to retain his Senate seat? Bachmann is forceful, but seems too opportunistic. She will attack with relish anyone who is rising above her, even those she used to praise. A little self-serving, perhaps? Perry may have good perspectives and fine ideas, but will he ever be able to communicate them effectively? Paul is a doctrinaire libertarian, not a conservative. On foreign policy, he is little different than the most radical leftist who blames America for everything. Gingrich is a big question mark. He might be a great president, or he might be a disaster. I sense there will be no middle ground with him if he gets the office.

Where does this leave us?

As I said at the beginning, I don’t expect perfection, and sometimes politicians develop into real leaders unexpectedly. This may happen with someone in the current crop of contenders. But are we sure it’s too late for someone else to jump in and shake things up? I would welcome it.