Friday, November 3, 2006

Rick Santorum, Redux

We ran the following post at the end of last month, but, with the election coming up on Tuesday, I thought it important to have it on the current page. This is an important article, and I encourage readers who agree with that assessment to link it to their friends and family.

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 seem to care about qualifications or accomplishments. They care about only 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.

Mr. Compassionate Conservatism

OpinionJournal has a nice feature piece on former Bush speechwriter David Gerson who talks about his vision of compassionate conservatism, national polarization, foreign policy and other matters. It's an interesting article.

Here he is, for instance, on freedom and democracy:

Must there be a "democratic culture" before one can have a democracy? Mr. Gerson says that democracy took hold despite Confucianism in Asia, Catholicism in southern Europe and Orthodoxy in Eastern Europe. "All of these," Mr. Gerson notes, "were regarded as cultural impediments to democratic progress. In fact our ideals, the ideals of freedom, turned out to be more appealing than we thought." Mr. Gerson is confident that the same will prove true in Iraq and Afghanistan. "I have a deep belief that liberty improves human life. . . . People eventually find that to be true, but that doesn't mean they immediately find it to be true."

Mr. Gerson looks back on the last few years of trying to spread freedom as "a time of exhausting international engagement on a variety of fronts." And he doesn't see it ending any time soon. But if the war on terror is really going to occupy our focus for the foreseeable future, why should Republicans run on improving education and ending poverty? Did 9/11 spell the end of compassionate conservatism?

Mr. Gerson believes the answer is no; the administration's foreign policy, he says, represents an expansion of the philosophy of compassionate conservatism. Bringing freedom and democracy to other parts of the globe has required military action, but Mr. Gerson is annoyed by Mr. Bush's critics on the left who say the president only uses force to solve global problems. "The administration's increases in foreign assistance have percentage-wise been the largest since the Marshall Plan," he notes.

Read the rest of the column at the link.

The Boatman Is Closing In

Strategy Page discusses the implications of the recent strike on a terrorist training facility in Pakistan that killed over 80 Taliban.

Bill Roggio at The Fourth Rail also has several posts up on the strike (Go here and scroll down for other posts).

It appears that the sand is just about through the hour glass for al Qaeda's #2 guy Ayman al-Zawahiri. He's been spotted twice now and barely escaped both times. The intelligence on him must be pretty good, and like Abu al-Zarqawi, who managed to elude capture or death several times before being sent to his 72 virgins by a laser guided munition last summer, al-Zawahiri must realize that the boatman waiting to ferry his blood-drenched soul across the river Styx is breathing heavily down his neck.

Winning Through Racial Bigotry

News comes that black Democratic senator Barack Obama was derided this week by a conservative journal as a "lawn jockey". This is the sort of racist bilge we've come to expect of conservatives, I suppose. They can't defeat black candidates by engaging their ideas so they resort to racial epithets to disparage and dehumanize them.

What? You say you hadn't heard anything about this? You say that if it were true it'd be all over the media and all the anti-racist talking heads would be pontificating about how this kind of reprehensible talk has no place in our shared culture?

Well, maybe the media silence about the story has something to do with the fact that I apparently got the details confused. It wasn't a conservative journal that employed the insult, it was the very liberal Esquire magazine, and it wasn't the Democrat Barack Obama who was the object of the aspersion it was Republican senatorial candidate Michael Steele of Maryland. Steele is the black Lieutenant governor of Maryland who has suffered racist contumely from Democrats throughout his campaign for the Senate.

It's not just Steele, of course, who gets subjected to racial affronts by the "liberal" Left. Any black conservative can point to numerous instances of humiliations suffered at the hands of those who tout themselves as champions of racial comity and harmony. Clarence Thomas, Condaleeza Rice, Ken Blackwell, Alan Keyes, J.C. Watts, LaShawn Barber, Shelby Steele, Ward Connerly, Stephen Carter, and many others have all had to bear the slings and arrows of outrageous bigotry from the "anti-racist" Left.

It's past time that the media called them on their hypocrisy and their bigotry. See Michelle for more on the story.