Pay No Attention to That Man Behind the Label

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Everyone knows that Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum is, depending on one’s point a view, a "staunch" or "solid" conservative (11,800 hits on Google) or an "ultraconservative" (28,400 hits). Conservatives adore Santorum and believe that it is of vital importance that he defeat the "liberal" Bob Casey, Jr., in this year’s election. Liberals despise him for being such an extreme right-winger and would like nothing more than to see him go down to defeat.

Just how true is this perception of Senator Santorum? How does it stand up to his actual voting record?

Fortunately, the senator has provided us with a handy guide to evaluating his alleged conservatism. Called "50 Ways Our Senator Rick Santorum is Making a Difference in Southwestern Pennsylvania" (presumably he has some variation on this for other regions of the state), this slick, colorful piece of campaign propaganda arrived in my mailbox yesterday. In this brochure Santorum lays out the manifold reasons that we, the citizens of the Keystone State, should return him to the Senate.

For your convenience I have taken the 50 statements and graded them as to their conservatism. Defining conservatism as it has been generally known for the past 50 years or so (until Bush and the neocons thoroughly confused matters) as a belief in limited, constitutional government and the rule of law, I have assigned one point to each accomplishment that would probably be considered genuinely conservative, albeit not necessarily libertarian; half a point to each accomplishment that, while possibly pursuing conservative objectives, does so at the expense of constitutional federalism; and zero points to everything else. Let’s see how things stack up.

First, we can eliminate three statements that are neither conservative nor liberal and are, for all intents and purposes, irrelevant when deciding whether a candidate is worthy of a vote. They mention a few feel-good details about Santorum’s father, grandfather, and wife and the fact that he has visited every county in the state on an annual basis. Who cares, except for the fact that those county-by-county visits were probably on the taxpayers’ dime?

That leaves 47 ways Santorum is "making a difference." Taking the rest of the statements at face value (i.e., without reading the bills or laws in question, which would probably further reduce the number of conservative accomplishments), I come up with the following three — count ‘em — that are, in my opinion, fully conservative:

  • Unlike his opponent, Rick opposes giving amnesty to illegal immigrants. Instead, Rick believes that we should protect our homeland by securing our borders, and wrote the "Border Security First Act" to do just that.
  • Rick helped to pass a tax cut for all Americans. He also successfully fought to eliminate the marriage penalty tax, and to increase the per child tax credit.
  • Rick was a loud opponent of the 2006 Senate cost-of-living pay raise. He not only voted against it, but when it passed he refused to accept it, and donated his raise to Pennsylvania charities.

I then counted the following at half a point each for pursuing conservative goals by distinctly un-conservative means (i.e., by violating the Ninth and Tenth Amendments):

  • Rick helped write and pass critical Health Savings Account legislation . . . .
  • Rick has joined with Senator John McCain in writing tough new lobbying laws. (This one is highly questionable as a conservative policy since it’s really an attempt to solve problems created by the McCain-Feingold campaign finance "reform" law by additional legislation, but I’m trying to be as generous as possible.)
  • Rick introduced the "Neighborhood Children’s Internet Protection Act" . . . [to protect] our children from Internet predators.
  • Rick is the author of "Aimee’s Law," which guarantees that violent criminals can never be let out of jail until they serve their entire sentence.
  • Rick has been on the forefront of the debate on preserving marriage . . . . He continues to advocate for the Marriage Protection Constitutional Amendment . . . .
  • Rick was instrumental in passing the "Welfare Reform Act of 1996" . . . [and authored] the recently enacted "Healthy Marriage Initiative," which provides $100 million per year to promote and support healthy marriages. (This one probably deserves a quarter point rather than a half point since only the welfare reform part counts as conservative. In addition, if the success rate of previous government programs is any indicator, the "Healthy Marriage Initiative" will end up causing more, not fewer, divorces.)

That brings Santorum’s conservatism score to 6 out of 47, or about 13 percent.

To be even more generous, let’s also count as conservative all of the proposals to spend more money on the military and veterans’ benefits and to retain military bases in Pennsylvania (not because they are needed — for, in the absence of market signals, how can one know if they are? — but because they provide "over 300 jobs in southwestern Pennsylvania") and even build a "Regional Joint Readiness Center." While such things might not traditionally have been considered conservative, they would certainly have been supported by a majority of conservatives over the past few decades, so just to be fair I’ll give the senator one point for each of them, which brings his total score to 11 out of 47, or approximately 23 percent.

The remaining 36 points — that’s 77 percent — consist of new, expensive, counterproductive federal programs; pork-barrel spending; and legislation to protect particular industries at the expense of others. The "ultraconservative" senator even brags of voting to raise the minimum wage; to guarantee that Social Security benefits will inexorably increase; and to create the largest entitlement expansion in decades, Medicare prescription drug coverage. He boasts of spending a total of nearly $2 billion of taxpayers’ money on various programs — and that’s only counting the items whose costs he provides; the rest of his expenditures surely run to hundreds of billions, if not trillions, of simoleons.

Thus we see that the strictest definition of conservatism nets Senator Santorum a maximum score of 13 percent, and the loosest definition only increases that to a whopping 23 percent. Meanwhile, he scores a full 77 percent for legislation that is thoroughly leftist in nature.

This is the man that conservatives love and liberals hate? If I were a liberal, I’d be calling Santorum’s office right now and asking what I can do to help the cause. Why waste my time with a guy who is at best only marginally more liberal than Santorum — Casey is pro-life and seems hardly likely to oppose the Iraq misadventure on principle — and has the drawbacks of no seniority in Washington and the inability to attract many Republican votes? Better to stick with the leftist whom the conservatives mistakenly believe is one of them!

Such, unfortunately, is the situation across the country, where the GOP candidate is seldom significantly more conservative than the supposedly liberal Democrat, and where sometimes Democrats turn out to be farther to the right, as this voters’ guide demonstrates. If only both conservatives and liberals would get this through their heads, it would greatly improve the quality of public policy discussions. Conservatives would then stop thinking that the Republicans are serious about reducing government, and liberals would stop thinking that the election of a Republican is going to make a single dent in their precious welfare state — as the last five years should have taught everyone. Both sides would recognize that we’re going to get war and empire no matter which party is in charge at the moment. Instead we get endless partisan sniping and the inordinate fear that the election of a member of the disfavored party will mean the end of the country.

The truth is that both parties are doing their level best to destroy what little remains of liberty in the land of the free, and no election is going to change that one bit. After all, as Emma Goldman put it, "If voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal."

Michael Tennant [send him mail] is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


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