A Rising Tide?

The latest poll of Republican voters shows that Rick Santorum is now tied with Mitt Romney with 30% each. It’s a stunning shift as Santorum has risen thirteen points very rapidly while Romney has dropped a couple. Newt Gingrich appears to be fading. The big question is whether Santorum can sustain this momentum.

Critics say that this is no different than what we’ve seen throughout this primary season. Rick Perry rocketed into first place when he entered the race. His fall was followed by Herman Cain’s meteoric rise, and then when he ran into his troubles, Gingrich was the beneficiary. So, in all, this makes Santorum the fourth candidate to equal or surpass Romney at one point or another.

My response is that while this also could be transitory, Santorum would only fall back due to some major misstep. Unlike Perry, he has come across as knowledgeable in the debates, with many believing he was the outright winner of the second one in Florida. Unlike Cain, he is more tested and has political leadership experience. And unlike Gingrich, he has no real personal baggage or history of constantly changing positions. He is who he is, and he’s been pretty consistent over the years.

I wasn’t at CPAC, but all the accounts of his appearance there indicate there is a rising tide. So many showed up for his speech that not everyone could get into the room. The accounts I’ve read say he got a standing ovation for his comments. Earlier in the week, when he showed up at Oral Roberts University, they had to change the location to the large arena because they expected perhaps 2000 would be attending. Instead, 3500 came to hear him.

Romney, meanwhile, in his speech at CPAC, seemed determined to convince the audience that he was a true conservative. He used the term “conservative” or its derivations twenty-six times in a speech with the same number of minutes. He even called himself the “severely” conservative governor of Massachusetts. Severely? How does that adjective fit? It’s oddly out of place to use that word in that context. It’s as if he is almost desperate to showcase his conservatism. But when you are that desperate, you have to understand why some might question your authenticity.

The real test of the trajectory of this race this month will come down to Michigan and Arizona on the 28th. Maybe those contests will clear the air. If not, March’s Super Tuesday will be the one to watch.

Marriage & Family: They Really Do Matter

Back to Rick Santorum’s book It Takes a Family.

Chapter four, entitled “Families and the Common Good,” is probably the foundational chapter for the entire book. Up to this point, Santorum was describing the general divergence of the liberal and conservative visions. Now, with laserlike focus, he establishes healthy families as the key to the success of the entire society. And by “success,” he doesn’t mean just economic success. That will be part of it, as another section of the book relates, but he’s talking about genuine happiness and security, especially for children. Here’s how he explains it:

Marriage matters because children matter. Without marriage, children suffer. There is simply no better investment parents can make in their children’s future than a healthy marriage. For my wife Karen and me, marriage is a sacred vocation. We give ourselves to each other: mind, body, and soul. Nothing in this world is more important to me than the happiness and well-being of my wife and children. It is my most important job. All of my strength comes from my love for them and God’s love for me. When children live with parents who love each other, sacrifice for each other, and are committed to each other, they are given a real head start on life.

He then gets into some statistics that reveal the following:

  • Children, ages one to four, born to unmarried parents are at greater risk of dying from an injury
  • Children living in single-parent homes are twice as likely to suffer physical, emotional, or educational neglect
  • The rate of child abuse rises in a single-parent home, is lower in a home where there are two parents who are not married, but much lower in a home where the parents are married
  • Children in single-parent households have poorer grades, poorer attendance records, and higher dropout rates

Santorum concludes,

The social science evidence, four thousand years of human history, and common sense have long settled the question. In a decent society, every child should have the best shot at growing up to be a healthy and successful adult. That opportunity is found in healthy, married, mom-and-dad families. The traditional family is not about some “special interest.” It’s about the rights of parents and children, and ultimately it’s about the common good.

Government policy works against marriage. If a couple has a child out of wedlock and then is considering marriage, they learn they can’t get the same help from social workers that they would if they stay unmarried. He also points the accusing finger at churches who have given up hope on salvaging the institution of marriage, particularly in the inner cities. Many don’t even try to help anymore.

At the end of the chapter, Santorum returns to the problem of the liberal visionaries, but also takes aim at conservatives as well:

We’ve wasted decades and countless lives under the direction of the village elders trying to build bureaucracies to aid the poor and marginal in our society, while ignoring the central importance of the traditional family. We must stop pretending that the health of the mom-and-dad family isn’t really important. Conservatives always knew this was a mistake, but, to be quite candid, failed to offer an alternative vision; now, thanks to the social science evidence, we all know that this was a mistake. We need to spend the coming decades working to build up traditional families. What is it that stands against us in this effort? The village elders and their well-funded special interests—and they will not go away quietly.

For Rick Santorum, the centrality of the family is not merely a political prop to win higher office. This comes from his own experience. If he should have the opportunity to attain that higher office, those of us who believe as he does about this can be secure that the nation is in good hands.

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.

The Next Ronald Reagan

With Huckabee’s withdrawal from the Republican race, commentators are asking who will pick up what they term the “social conservative voters.” While I do recognize the basic validity of that name, it still rankles me that we have created such a divide in the conservative electorate.

The conventional wisdom is that there are social conservatives and economic conservatives, and that the two groups are rather at odds with each other. That does happen, but I submit it’s an artificial division.

I would fit the definitions for both, and I believe most conservatives do as well. If not, they aren’t really thorough conservatives. There should be no dichotomy. Economic issues are moral issues at root. The problems we are experiencing on the economic front are the result of wasting other people’s money, going deep into debt without caring about it, and wanting the federal government to dictate the actions of citizens in areas that combine the economic and the social. I believe healthcare is a prime example of that.

Our values as a culture will affect all areas of our society. Our thinking will be warped if we say we can ignore ultimate right and wrong. We end up with a culture somewhat like this:

And our attempts at social engineering through the courts can even impact our national defense and our security:

While abortion is primarily a moral horror and cesspool of depravity, it also has a direct economic effect: over fifty million potential producers/inventors [add any other descriptor here that is relevant] have been erased from our population.

The big question is not who will pick up the social conservative voters, but who has the foresight and communication skills to help everyone understand the links between all conservatives. Who is going to help them form the coalition that is absolutely necessary to bring this period of electoral folly to an end?

We shouldn’t be looking at this as either/or. It’s both/and.

There is this yearning for “the next Ronald Reagan.” Well, there was only one Reagan. Yet what he did can be repeated in this sense: he was a true representative of all types of conservatives. He drew them together. Who, on the national scene right now, can succeed in this challenge? The one who can accomplish this will be the standard-bearer for all who call themselves conservatives.

Old, Tired Rhetoric

It gets old. What am I talking about? The old, tired rhetoric from the Left that tries to convince Americans that conservatives and/or rich people are to blame for everything. First, a little perspective correction: not all conservatives are rich. Many of those rich people are liberals. Ask any Kennedy or Rockefeller serving in politics whether they have ever had to work in a factory. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett are liberals as well. Let’s do away with the easy connection between conservatism and wealth. You find wealthy people on both sides of the political spectrum.

What the president seeks to do now, though, is to link all things conservative with evil, greedy, wealthy individuals, and to make it appear that those evil people are ruining it for everyone else. He’ll say things that sound similar to this:

His approach is rather simple to explain:

And when he does talk about the debt problem, and he calls on all to sacrifice, he leaves out one significant part of our society:

You must sacrifice the future of your children, but the government must never be asked to cut back on its expenses.

Like I said, it’s getting a little old. Is it possible we won’t fall for it this time?