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.