Santorumism

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Senator Rick Santorum is a family man (“Karen and I have been abundantly blessed with the privilege of raising six magnificent souls.”), and he wants every man in the United States to be one too (“It is an open and shut case: the best place for kids to grow up is with a happily married mom and dad, and the more of these families there are in a community, the better it is for everyone.”). A noble idea, except that he wants the federal government to assist in his endeavor.

Santorum is a Republican senator from Pennsylvania. His new book (a New York Times Bestseller) is It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good (ISI Books, 2006). Since I live in Florida, and since I already have a stack of books on my desk that I am trying to review, and since my opinion of U.S. senators is not very high, I normally wouldn’t take the time to examine Senator Santorum’s book. However, I recently received in the mail a letter from Rick Santorum. Instead of the usual return address (it was placed on the reverse side), there was a large Santorum 2006 logo with this statement underneath: “Why is my Senate race important to you in Florida? Give me a moment to explain.”

I took the bait and opened the letter. Inside the envelope I found the answer to the question on the front of the envelope:

If you want to keep your taxes low, defeat the terrorist threat to our freedom, and restore sanity to our judicial system by appointing judges who won’t re-write the Constitution every chance they get then my victory in Pennsylvania will help protect you and your family from the radical left seeking to seize control of the United States Senate this November.

The bulk of Santorum’s four-page letter is taken up with the evils of the left, the liberals, and the Democrats. He maintains that liberal Democrats believe he is “the most important conservative Republican to defeat in 2006,” and that his “race is key to Republicans keeping a Majority in the Senate.”

After calling me a “longtime Republican supporter” (I have never given a dime to the Republican Party) and a “dedicated Republican” (I was never dedicated to the Republican Party even when I was a member), Santorum closes by telling me how his Senate race “really will have an impact on what goes on” in my Florida home. And not only Florida — even “the sovereignty of our nation” is at stake.

The first thing I do when I hear a Republican member of Congress brag about how conservative he is and how evil the Democrats are is check his “Conservative Index” rating and compare it with that of Congressman Ron Paul. This index is published about every six months by The New American. The index “rates congressmen based on their adherence to constitutional principles of limited government, fiscal responsibility, national sovereignty, and a traditional foreign policy of avoiding foreign entanglements.” Each index examines the votes cast by congressmen on ten key issues. Votes are assigned a plus (good) or a minus (bad). Scores from 1 to 100 are determined by dividing a congressman’s plus votes by the total number of votes cast and multiplying by 100. Thus, the higher the number, the stronger the congressman’s commitment to the constitutional principles just mentioned.

Fortunately, the latest “Conservative Index” has just been released. It is the magazine’s fourth look at the 109th Congress, and appears in the issue dated October 30, 2006. The first index for the 109th Congress was in the issue dated August 8, 2005, the second appeared in the issue dated December 12, 2005, and the third in the issue dated July 10, 2006. The latest index includes each congressman’s current score as well as his overall average score.

So, how strong is Santorum’s commitment to constitutional principles?

Not very.

His rating in the first index was a 60; Congressman Ron Paul scored a 100.

His rating in the second index was a 20; Congressman Ron Paul scored a 100.

His rating in the third index was a 22; Congressman Ron Paul scored a 100.

His rating in the fourth index was a 70; Congressman Ron Paul scored a 100.

This gives him an average of 44 — the same as Senator John McCain. There are thirty-five Republicans in the Senate who have a higher overall score than Santorum.

What Santorum is committed to is stated early in his book: “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.” I agree with Santorum’s first sentence; it is his conservative efforts to help the poor — Santorumism — that I have a problem with.

Santorum is part of the new breed of compassionate conservatives. The election of George W. Bush was a godsend: “His faith-based program, reflecting his sincere belief that faith-based and community organizations can change people’s lives, brought our efforts into the mainstream of political debate.” The problem with Santorum’s compassionate conservatism is that it is a compassion that uses the other people’s money.

Santorum never met a federal program he didn’t like as long as it furthered the compassionate conservative agenda:

After being one of AmeriCorps’ harshest critics, I began working closely with its new director, Harris Wofford, to move the program in a more community-oriented direction.

I am also a supporter of President Bush’s USA Freedom Corps, which further reforms and expands service opportunities through the AmeriCorps program by transitioning the service program toward a model with voucher-like awards to individuals desiring to serve low-income individuals or communities.

President Bush’s administration is heading down the right track, planning to spend $300 million of welfare funding per year for five years in order to test different ways that we can help low-income couples who might want to consider marriage to do just that.

All our social service programs, ranging from Head Start to hospital maternity wards, also need to be retooled so that the professional staff is trained in how to talk to clients about the value of marriage.

When I have attempted to increase abstinence funding at the expense of contraception funding, I have been scolded for “trying to impose religious values on children.”

President Bush has aggressively implemented charitable choice throughout the federal government. I plan on pushing for further expansions that will include housing and workforce programs.

One of the bills I introduced, with Senator John Kerry, is called the Workplace Religious Freedom Act, which would require religious accommodation in the workplace.

It wasn’t until Ronald Reagan signed the Earned Income Tax Credit, which supplements the income of low-income families, that working poor families were rewarded for their own efforts to get off the treadmill.

They are working because we required them to work and then thanks to the work incentives we enacted (expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit, childcare and transportation funding, job training and counseling), low-skill, low-wage mothers were financially better off working than being on welfare.

Santorum sponsored Charitable Choice, which “permitted federal and state grant-makers to select faith-based charities to deliver welfare-related services to the poor with money the states are given through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.” He also sponsored “a fatherhood initiative in the welfare reform reauthorization that is working its way through Congress. This consists of $50 million of spending per year for community- and faith-based programs that promote and foster healthy fatherhood.”

Santorum authored the American Community Renewal Act (2000), which includes “a menu of economic incentives for community investing by creating u2018Renewal Communities’ in distressed urban and rural areas around the country.” He also authored the Reverse Commuting Program (1996), which uses “federal reverse-commuting dollars” to “help subsidize routes from reclamation areas to suburban job centers.”

Santorum supports Individual Development Accounts, IDAs, which “act like a 401 (k) program for low-income individuals. These programs are set up, many by faith-based organizations, with a mix of federal, state, and private dollars.” He also supports the America Saving for Personal Investment, Retirement, and Education Act, which “creates a savings account called a Kids Investment and Development Savings (KIDS) account for every child born in America. Under this plan, the federal government would endow each account with a one-time $500 contribution. Every child living in households earning below the national median income would be eligible for an additional contribution of up to $500.”

Santorum wants to amend the Federal Labor Standards Act, not repeal it. His problem with the National Endowment for the Arts is that it funded pornographic art, not that it is unconstitutional. He continually praises the Republican welfare reform legislation that was passed in 1996. He even maintains that “before 1996 welfare was a mammoth federal income-transfer program.” He states that “the village elders’ welfare policy concentrates on transferring income via government bureaucracy.” So what is it now, Mr. Santorum? “AFDC was scrapped and replaced with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF),” says Santorum. But is it not still an income transfer program? Oh no, replies Santorum, it is capitalization: “The conservative goal is not bureaucratically administered income transfers, with the dependency that usually fosters; rather, the goal is to u2018capitalize’ families that so far have not had a chance to get a piece of the American dream.”

Santorum supports the Marriage Protection Amendment. But Representative Ron Paul, another Republican, pro-life, pro-family member of Congress, said about this amendment on the House Floor:

Mr. Speaker, while I oppose federal efforts to redefine marriage as something other than a union between one man and one woman, I do not believe a constitutional amendment is either a necessary or proper way to defend marriage.

Because of the dangers to liberty and traditional values posed by the unexpected consequences of amending the Constitution to strip power from the states and the people and further empower Washington, I cannot in good conscience support the marriage amendment to the United States Constitution. Instead, I plan to continue working to enact the Marriage Protection Act and protect each state’s right not to be forced to recognize a same sex marriage.

Santorum supports “school choice”; that is, educational vouchers. He does acknowledge that we already have school choice: some chose to pay taxes for an unused public school education and the cost of a private school; some move to be near the school where they want their children to attend. But that is not good enough: “We have plenty of school choice today already. But it’s inefficient and unfair.” Because it is “inequitable,” Santorum believes we must (with taxpayer dollars) “empower all our children with scholarships if we are to achieve the common good.”

This idea of the “common good” is part of Santorum’s view of freedom: “It is the liberty our founders understood. Properly defined, liberty is freedom coupled with responsibility to something bigger or higher than the self. It is the pursuit of our dreams with an eye toward the common good.”

Santorum’s support of federal programs is not surprising since he continually looks to the federal government:

There have been times, and there may again be times in the future, when the federal government has to act in the face of gross failure at the smaller levels of the state or community.

There are times when the federal government has to take the lead.

Government has a role to play in promoting the common good, but it should do so by equipping and empowering families and communities: it should follow the path of subsidiarity. One of the roles that government is uniquely capable of playing is providing parents and the pop culture industry with research. I am a strong advocate of federal investment in research in general, and research regarding the impact of media content on children in particular.

Santorum believes in “a transition in government’s role from one in which it does little more than help the poor keep their heads above water in a turbulent sea to one in which it helps them to swim to safer shores.” And then he has the audacity to say that it is liberals who “trust government more than markets.” Santorum then criticizes Bill Clinton for advocating school uniforms: “They happen to be a good idea, but they’re not the responsibility of the president of the United States.” What he really meant was that they are not the responsibility of a Democratic president of the United States. Santorum is such a partisan Republican hack that I can’t imagine him criticizing Bush for anything he advocates. Yet, as much as he disparages liberals and Democrats, Santorum brags throughout his book about all the liberal Democrats he worked on bills with: Carol Mosley Braun, Dianne Feinstein, Hillary Clinton, Joseph Lieberman, Harris Wofford, Evan Bayh, and John Kerry.

But it is not just working with Republicans and Democrats where Santorum likes to have things both ways. Although he claims to be “a strong advocate of freedom of speech when it comes to any political or public policy discourse,” he is “less an absolutist when it comes to commercial speech.” On the one hand, Santorum believes that the government “certainly does have a role when it comes to cleaning up our culture, but that role is not the role of censor.” But on the other hand he supports:

  • Aggressive enforcement of existing standards by the Federal Communications Commission.
  • Increased fines for violations of existing obscenity laws and regulations.
  • The good work of the Federal Trade Commission.

He opposes “a laissez-faire approach by regulators” because it “only emboldens certain bad actors in the industry to push the limits.” He also wants a new rating system for movies because “the government has a role to play here, just as in food safety.” I wonder if there is anything that he thinks the government shouldn’t have a role in.

Santorum has things backwards: “The only way the number of abortions will ever actually become rare is for the law to change. The only way the law will change is for the hearts and minds of Americans to change.” Wrong. I know hundreds of women who would never have an abortion no matter how safe and legal it was. The real solution to abortion is to change the hearts and minds of Americans and get the federal government out of it.

There are three fundamental errors of Santorumism:

  • Everyone is either a conservative or he is a liberal.
  • The answer to every social problem is legislation.
  • Solutions lie with the federal government instead of the states.

In his conclusion, Santorum anticipates three classes of objectors to his Santorumism:

  • I suspect some will dismiss my ideas as just an extended version of “compassionate conservatism.”
  • Some will reject what I have to say as a kind of “big government” conservatism.
  • And some will say that what I’ve tried to argue isn’t conservatism at all.

Put me down in all three classes.

Santorum says about Congress: “If the people decide its representatives have made a mistake, the people can throw them out and bring in different ones to correct with new laws any errors perpetrated by the old.” That is why Santorum, like every incumbent Republican member of Congress (except Rep. Ron Paul, a true Jeffersonian), deserves to lose his Senate race on Election Day. Not because his Democratic opponent is any better, but because he advocates conservative socialism, faith-based income transfer programs, and a kinder, gentler, statism.

Interventionism, at home and abroad: Vote Republican.

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute has published a number of good books over the years: Santorum’s book is definitely not one of them.

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