Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Rick Santorum

The New York Times has a column by David Brooks that a friend passed along and which one wishes every Pennsylvanian, indeed every American, would read. The complete essay follows:

Every poll suggests that Rick Santorum will lose his race to return to the U.S. Senate. That's probably good news in Pennsylvania's bobo suburbs, where folks regard Santorum as an ideological misfit and a social blight. But it's certainly bad for poor people around the world.

For there has been at least one constant in Washington over the past 12 years: almost every time a serious piece of antipoverty legislation surfaces in Congress, Rick Santorum is there playing a leadership role.

In the mid-1990s, he was a floor manager for welfare reform, the most successful piece of domestic legislation of the past 10 years. He then helped found the Renewal Alliance to help charitable groups with funding and parents with flextime legislation.

More recently, he has pushed through a stream of legislation to help the underprivileged, often with Democratic partners. With Dick Durbin and Joe Biden, Santorum has sponsored a series of laws to fight global AIDS and offer third world debt relief. With Chuck Schumer and Harold Ford, he's pushed to offer savings accounts to children from low-income families. With John Kerry, he's proposed homeownership tax credits. With Chris Dodd, he backed legislation authorizing $860 million for autism research. With Joe Lieberman he pushed legislation to reward savings by low-income families.

In addition, he's issued a torrent of proposals, many of which have become law: efforts to fight tuberculosis; to provide assistance to orphans and vulnerable children in developing countries; to provide housing for people with AIDS; to increase funding for Social Services Block Grants and organizations like Healthy Start and the Children's Aid Society; to finance community health centers; to combat genocide in Sudan.

I could fill this column, if not this entire page, with a list of ideas, proposals and laws Santorum has poured out over the past dozen years. It's hard to think of another politician who has been so active and so productive on these issues.

Like many people who admire his output, I disagree with Santorum on key matters like immigration, abortion, gay marriage. I'm often put off by his unnecessarily slashing style and his culture war rhetoric.

But government is ultimately not about the theater or the light shows of public controversy, it's about legislation and results. And the substance of Santorum's work is impressive. Bono, who has worked closely with him over the years, got it right: "I would suggest that Rick Santorum has a kind of Tourette's disease; he will always say the most unpopular thing. But on our issues, he has been a defender of the most vulnerable."

Santorum doesn't have the jocular manner of most politicians. His colleagues' eyes can glaze over as he lectures them on the need to, say, devote a week of Senate floor time to poverty. He's not the most social member of the club. Many politicians praise family values and seem to spend as little time as possible with their own families, but Santorum is at home almost constantly. And there is sometimes a humorlessness to his missionary zeal.

But no one can doubt his rigor. Jonathan Rauch of The National Journal wrote the smartest review of Santorum's book, "It Takes a Family." Rauch noted that while Goldwaterite conservatives see the individual as the essential unit of society, Santorum sees the family as the essential unit.

Rauch observed, "Where Goldwater denounced collectivism as the enemy of the individual, Santorum denounces individualism as the enemy of the family." That belief has led Santorum in interesting and sometimes problematical directions, but the argument itself is a serious one. His discussion of the philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, for example, is as sophisticated as anything in Barack Obama's recent book. If Santorum were pro-choice, he'd be a media star and a campus hero.

The bottom line is this: If serious antipoverty work is going to be done, it's going to emerge from a coalition of liberals and religious conservatives. Without Santorum, that's less likely to happen. If senators are going to be honestly appraised, it's going to require commentators who can look beyond the theater of public controversy and at least pretend to care about actual legislation. Santorum has never gotten a fair shake from the media.

And so after Election Day, the underprivileged will probably have lost one of their least cuddly but most effective champions.

Santorum is a wonderful example of "compassionate conservatism". He embodies so much of what voters claim they want their politicians to be, but he's about to fall victim to an adversary media and an uninformed public. The media doesn't care about qualifications or accomplishments but cares only about three things: Party label, the candidate's stance on abortion, and his stance on the war.

Thus Santorum has three strikes against him and, short of a surge in Republican turnout, he will be replaced next week by a man, Bob Casey, whose only qualifications for the office seem to be that he has the right party affiliation, the right stance on getting out of Iraq, and his daddy was a popular governor. Santorum will lose the election, if he does, largely because the public simply hasn't taken the trouble to compare him with his opponent. It's the sort of thing that sours people on American politics.

The Milk of Human Kindness

Mike Adams reports on an abortive confrontation with uber-Darwinian P.Z. Myers at TownHall.com. Myers is widely known for his kind, gentle and irenic demeanor evidenced by this excerpt from his blog the day before Adams' lecture at Myers' university:

"Mike S. Adams, columnist for TownHall, Horowitzian shill, anti-feminist, creationist clown, homophobic bigot, warrior for free speech, professional racist, gun kook, academic-by-accident, beauty contest judge, and just generally contemptible far, far right-wing nutcase."

"I'm very disappointed in our students. We're far off the beaten track and we don't get that many speakers passing through our area, and they had to go exhibit the poor taste to invite this sorry sack of rethuglican excreta to our campus. Couldn't they have at least tried to find an intelligent conservative to bring out here? Why'd they have to scrape the bottom of the barrel for this guy? At least we're seeing our rather dismal right-wing campus rag's fading credibility implode with their sponsorship of such a low-wattage guest speaker."

Well, okay, maybe he's not exactly kind, but such qualities are relative among the victims of arrested development who travel in Prof. Myers' political circles. I mean it could have been worse. He could have called him a "Bush-lover".

Read how the confrontation between the two antagonists ended up at the link. Thanks to Uncommon Descent for the tip.


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