The Problem with Rick Santorum

Santorumby N. A. Halkides   5/27/14
Although it’s too early yet for the paperwork to be filed for the 2016 Presidential election, it’s obvious that Rick Santorum is planning another run — he has formed a committee and he has a website on which you can donate money to his future campaign. The website does not currently list any of his positions from the 2012 race, so in trying to determine what they were I was forced to depend largely on an article in the International Business Times.  In reviewing his positions from a Conservative perspective, there are any number of issues on which Santorum is sound enough:  no amnesty for illegal aliens, repeal Obamacare and Dodd-Frank, reform entitlements, and allow oil drilling pretty much everywhere.  But are they the product of a coherent political philosophy, in particular, a coherent Conservative philosophy?

Santorum lays great emphasis on the importance of families, and I think it is this in particular that has confused many on our side.  After all, we Conservatives believe that the family is one of the bulwarks of society, and I myself have lambasted Libertarians in these pages for their unconcern about families when they favor “getting the government out of the marriage business”.  But there is a difference between viewing the family as the basic social unit and viewing it as the basic political unit, which seems to be Santorum’s point of view.  In general, Conservatives believe that the government supports the family by recognizing traditional marriage and seeing that its promises are enforced, thus ensuring that most children are raised by a family containing one mother and one father, but we also know that a large part of what we’re trying to conserve are social values as opposed to political ones.  Santorum seems to believe in using the coercive power of government to bolster the family at the expense of the individual.

Thus Santorum supports minimum-wage laws in defiance of the individual freedom to bargain and the great harm such laws are known to cause.  He supports a constitutional amendment to define marriage as between a man and a woman, and he does not believe states should be able to legalize gay marriage or civil unions, as several have. “We can’t say, ‘The 10th Amendment, they can do what they want,’” he said in Iowa last month.  “This is too important for that. There’s a basic and central value. The family is the bedrock of our society. Unless we protect it with the institution of marriage, our country will fall.”

Now, this is a strange understanding of Federalism for a supposed Conservative.  The states and not the Federal Government are competent to make their own marriage laws (by “competent” I mean competent in the Constitutional sense; I am certainly not suggesting the Democratic politicians of Hawaii or Illinois are competent in the sense of being responsible legislators).  And as much as Conservatives want to preserve traditional marriage, most of us want to win the war of ideas, not impose our view by fiat on the entire country by means of a Constitutional Amendment.  Indeed, while this may be a subtle point, our side should recognize that the purpose of a Constitution is to so limit government so as to protect the individual against it, not to impose our preferred policies in a manner calculated to make them difficult to change through the democratic process, which is a hallmark of the Progressive movement.  For example, Illinois has a State Constitution which requires payment of the pensions of government employees, as if the ability of the Democratic Party to bribe public sector workers with taxpayer money were the paramount concern of free government.  Conservatives also understand that we need to change our culture so that marriage is valued as it once was; we cannot simply deliver a tablet to the masses from on high with a Marriage Amendment on it as if we were Moses.

To avoid confusion, let me make it clear that by “preferred policies” I mean ordinary legislation within the proper scope of government and not protections of fundamental rights; thus a law against polygamy is our preferred policy which we would fight for but not suggest belongs in the Constitution, whereas the First and Second Amendments, which prevent the Democratic Left from abridging our rights to speak freely and bear arms, are something we most definitely do intend to impose upon our opponents as our price for agreeing to participate with them in the same society.

Now let’s turn to Santorum’s views on sex and the law.  From the International Business Times:

“Unlike his opponents, however, he opposes not just same-sex marriage but also sexual activity between same-sex partners. In 2003, he infamously compared gay sex to bestiality and pedophilia</a>, telling The Associated Press that he did not believe the Constitution forbade government restrictions on consensual homosexual activity any more than it forbade restrictions on man on child, man on dog or whatever the case may be.”

He criticized the Supreme Court for striking down anti-sodomy laws, arguing

“And if the Supreme Court says that you have the right to consensual sex within your home, then you have the right to bigamy, you have the right to polygamy, you have the right to incest, you have the right to adultery. You have the right to anything. Does that undermine the fabric of our society? I would argue yes, it does. It all comes from, I would argue, this right to privacy that doesn’t exist in my opinion in the United States Constitution, this right that was created, it was created in Griswold — Griswold was the contraceptive case — and abortion. And now we’re just extending it out. And the further you extend it out, the more you — this freedom actually intervenes and affects the family. You say, well, it’s my individual freedom. Yes, but it destroys the basic unit of our society because it condones behavior that’s antithetical to strong healthy families. Whether it’s polygamy, whether it’s adultery, where it’s sodomy, all of those things, are antithetical to a healthy, stable, traditional family.”

I have quoted the passage above in full, taking it from the AP interview itself and not from the abridged version in the IBT so that there would be no confusion.  Santorum explicitly subordinates individual rights to the alleged needs of the family, and this is entirely insupportable as theory even for a Conservative candidate.  The law operates upon individuals, not families; rights are moral/political principles which assert the freedom of the individual, not the family, against the keenest desires of those who govern.  Thus the First Amendment protects the individual’s right to speak freely without being punished by the government, while the Second Amendment protects the individual’s right to keep and bear arms suitable for use by infantrymen.  It would be absurd to speak of a family’s right to freedom of speech, or a family’s right to bear arms; rights inhere in the individual, not the collective.

If there is some confusion on this point because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Citizens United, it is the fault of the Left’s perhaps deliberate misunderstanding of the case – the Court did not somehow collectivize the right of free speech to corporations, it merely concluded (correctly) that individuals do not give up their rights by banding together to form a corporation.  Thus, The New York Times considered as a body corporate may not have the right to publish freely, but the stockholders who own the company most certainly do, and they are the true publishers of whatever appears in the Times from the standpoint of vindicating their freedom of speech.  It is merely for convenience that we sometimes speak of the corporation and not of the owners of that corporation.  Whether the Left is too stupid to understand the argument or whether it is deliberately trying to mislead the public about Citizens United is a question for another day.

The IBT further goes on to say:

“Santorum is alone among the 2012 candidates in opposing birth control as well as abortion, because, he says, it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be. In other words, he does not believe couples, even married couples, should have non-procreative sex.”

In fairness to Santorum, this is not the only possible reading of his remarks critical of Griswold v. Connecticut, the case in which the Supreme Court determined there was some vague right to “privacy” in the Constitution which made Connecticut’s law restricting the sale of contraceptives unconstitutional.  Perhaps Santorum only intended to criticize the principle of a vague right to privacy when it was extended to cover sodomy and abortion.  Perhaps – but observe that Santorum was extremely careless in making such generalities when he should have known what the opposition would do with them.  Elsewhere, Santorum has said that he does support legal access to contraception, but he certainly doesn’t sound as though his heart is in it:

“[I] have voted for contraception, although I don’t think it works. I think it’s harmful to women. I think it’s harmful to our society to have a society that says that sex outside of marriage is something that should be encouraged or tolerated …, particularly among the young and it has I think we’ve seen very, very harmful long-term consequences to the society. Birth control to me enables that and I don’t think it’s a healthy thing for our country.”  (From a 2006 Comcast interview now available on YouTube).  It’s clear, then, that Santorum disfavors both contraception and pre-marital sex, positions that are anathema to a majority of Americans.

Another thing that strikes one is how unnecessary it was for Santorum to get into these matters in the first place – and that brings us to Santorum’s ineptitude as a politician.  Why inject sodomy laws into the political discussion at all, or take a position on birth control that lends credence to the Democratic contention that Republicans are waging a “war on women” and want to prohibit “access” to contraception?  Any other candidate can point out that the Democrats are lying:  insisting that the Sandra Flukes of the world pay for their own birth control does not mean Republicans are trying to deny them “access” to it, but Santorum can’t pretend he approves of contraception, making him spectacularly vulnerable to Democratic attacks.  This may explain his many electoral defeats, and to all those who think Santorum would have won in 2012 had he been the Republican nominee, a fantasy spun recently by Quin Hillyer on NRO, we need only point out that if Mitt Romney couldn’t overcome the Democratic attack ads, and at some level he obviously could not, then Santorum would have had no chance at all.

The last thing I want to do is get into the issue of homosexual sodomy, but I think it’s necessary here to nail down Santorum’s views on the role of government.  I can’t presume to speak for the Conservative community, but it seems to me that historically a quite natural disgust with this act resulted in its criminalization by a number of states (how many or which states is not relevant to the present discussion).  And there may be a significant fraction of Conservatives who believe that such laws are good.  I myself cannot reconcile sodomy laws with the theory of natural rights and limited government; for government to have a legitimate power to forbid an act, that act must violate the rights of some individual, not merely offend normal sensibilities.  And if the states can criminalize sodomy, what action or behavior inimical to families (in Santorum’s view) can they not criminalize?

On the matter of contraception, I do not believe there is any significant number of Conservatives who believe it should be outlawed or regulated by the states.  That is not to say the Supreme Court was correct in its reasoning in Griswold, but surely the result was a vindication of individual rights – you do have the right to control whether you create a baby, even though after conception (whether intentional or unintentional) you can’t just decide to kill your baby out of personal convenience.

Now technically, I think Santorum’s understanding of the federal Constitution is correct in both cases:  nothing in it prevents the states from making sodomy a crime or from regulating contraceptives.  But to me, that merely points out the many faults in the state constitutions, which contain insufficient protections against the powers of state governments.  And raising either of these matters is a huge mistake – the sodomy question would probably split the Republican coalition, and even if it didn’t, we’re surely not going to win over independent voters running on a platform of amending the Constitution to restore the states’ power to criminalize sodomy and restrict access to contraception!

That brings us to abortion.  Santorum of course opposes it, as I think any successful Republican candidate must.  But he takes the extreme anti-abortion stance:

“Santorum opposes abortion and believes it should be illegal under all circumstances, including rape, incest and cases in which the mother’s health is threatened. ‘I believe that any doctor who performs an abortion should be criminally charged for doing so,’ he told NBC in June.  ‘I’ve never supported criminalization of abortion for mothers, but I do for people who perform them.’  He also supports a constitutional amendment that would define fetuses as people and thus make it murder to abort one: ‘At conception it is biologically human, and it’s alive, he said. It’s a human life. It should be a person under the Constitution.’

I will repeat my earlier criticisms here regarding Santorum’s understanding of Federalism:  the states, not the Federal government, are competent to define whether or not life begins at conception and to restrict abortions, and again Santorum’s desire to override them with a Constitutional Amendment bespeaks a misunderstanding of Constitutional purpose.   And during the Presidential campaign, the Democrats would endlessly remind voters that Santorum has claimed that abortion traumatizes the victims of rape and incest (see these remarks made during an appearance at Informed Choices in Iowa), making him seem unsympathetic to their plight.  This along with his determination to have no exceptions in abortion law for the health of the mother is a position that simply cannot win an election at the present time.

It is exceedingly difficult to categorize Santorum’s political beliefs or even reconcile them with one another.  There is really no one exactly like him in contemporary American politics.  He is basically sound on immigration and a number of economic issues, seen in isolation.  But even there, inconsistencies soon reveal themselves.  Why repeal the regulations of Dodd-Frank while raising the minimum wage?  If the first is an example of overweening government power, so then is the second, although it might be the less harmful to the economy.  He is certainly no apostle of individual rights:  his advocacy of using government to advance the interests of the family, as he sees them, reminds me of G. W. Bush’s “compassionate conservatism” and of the Roman Emperor Augustus’ laws against bachelorhood.  Note that neither Bush nor Augustus were too concerned with liberty, and were not Conservatives by the standards of American politics today.  In the expression of coercion in positive terms – what the government can do for you – Santorum’s prescriptions seem Progressive, even though he can’t be accused of socialism, the progenitor of the American Progressive movement.  ST member CC Writer suggested the term “Crypto-progressive” to describe Santorum, and through unwieldy it is the most accurate single term I have yet heard.  It means adopting the Progressive mask of pretending that government can be a positive help to the attainment of individual goals, while ignoring the repression to be visited upon other individuals whose goals do not meet the approval of the government.

Because Santorum’s economic policy is seemingly Conservative in many ways, the “repression” I referred to above is certainly less obvious than it is with the program of the Progressive Left, and would probably not be immediately apparent under a President Santorum.  But his fixation on manufacturing jobs, for instance, might lead to protectionist policies which we know in the long run hurt a country’s economy.  And the principle of giving the family primacy over the individual could logically take him anywhere.  Despite holding many positions which would benefit America, Santorum’s lack of any coherent theory of government disqualifies him under my proposed Criterion VI, “The candidate should have a coherent theory of government (limited government).  He also fails Criterion V, “The candidate must agree the Federal government has no role in abortion, which is strictly a matter of concern for the states” although by advocating Federal prohibition rather than Federal allowance.   (See What Conservatives Should Look For in a Presidential Candidate Part II).  Finally, Santorum is an inept politician whose positions on sodomy, abortion and contraception make him simply unelectable.  We must look elsewhere for a champion in 2016. • (2522 views)

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12 Responses to The Problem with Rick Santorum

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    My initial choice in 2012 would have been either Jon Huntsman (who had foreign policy experience and a good, conservative record as Utah governor) or Rick Perry (who had a generally good record as Texas governor). But Huntsman decided it was more important to “stand tall in Georgetown” than to defend the GOP grassroots, and Perry of course went “oops”. After that, I initially preferred Santorum until he got himself into too much of a social issues morass. There’s no reason he wouldn’t end up in that same morass in 2016, making him probably unelectable (and in fact far more so than in 2012).

    As for the lack of a coherent philosophy of conservatism, this won’t be relevant until someone can identify a viable candidate who doesn’t have that problem. Maybe Sarah Palin, but (as faba calculo pointed out), is she really a viable candidate? Does Rick Perry actually have a coherent philosophy? Perhaps the best choice would be Ted Cruz (he might qualify), but he has barely more experience than Barack Obama did in 2008, which is no advertisement for him.

    • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

      Right now Cruz probably stands at the head of the list. You’re right, Tim, about there being no known viable candidate (except perhaps Cruz) who does indeed have a coherent theory of government, and that Palin does not seem to qualify as “viable”. It’s actually both sad and alarming that there are so few Republicans of any real stature. Maybe it’s time for a “draft Sen. Jeff Sessions” movement.

      Other possibilities might be Mike Pence or Scott Walker. Pence nominally got rid of Common Core in Indiana but then replaced it with much the same thing under a different name – not a point in his favor. Walker has garnered a lot of praise as Governor of Wisconsin, but he’s going to be the subject of my next article in which I take a more critical look (I hope) at what he’s achieved in public-sector pension reform and how much of that can be attributed to luck, and also how much would be translatable to the Federal level.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        Generally, my preference has been for a governor, such as Pence (though Common Core is a problem), Walker, or Jindal. The latter seems to lack charisma, but has many advantages (including the fact that his term ends at the end of 2015, which allows him to run without interfering with his job).

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Americans now want a nice face put on hedonism. I like Santorum, but he’d be a tough sell.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I will repeat my earlier criticisms here regarding Santorum’s understanding of Federalism:  the states, not the Federal government, are competent to define whether or not life begins at conception and to restrict abortions, and again Santorum’s desire to override them with a Constitutional Amendment bespeaks a misunderstanding of Constitutional purpose.

    You may have slipped into the libertarian heresy, Nik. 🙂 I think some things do rise to the Federal level, such as abortion, as does the issue (similar in nature) as to whether or not a man is a man or a piece of property.

    Libertarians will typically tell you that the issue of slavery should have been decided by the states. And I’m certainly not for the Fed telling us what kind of light bulb we can buy, etc., etc. But there is nothing more basic in terms of contract law than who has rights and who does not, for who is human and who is not. If this can be decided on a state-by-state basis, then what kind of society are we?

    Being designated as human, we can certainly then have different rights at different times. A 12-year-old is not allowed to drive (or drink, for that matter) and a felon is not allowed to vote. And it is on this basis that I say it’s perfectly fine to say that one has the right to marry . . . a member of the opposite sex, but anything else is just playing at it.

    But the Constitution itself is not speaking to dogs, birds, or extraterrestrials. It is a document fashioned by humans to apply to humans, so the very basic question regarding who is human is certainly a Federal issue.

    • NAHALKIDES NAHALKIDES says:

      Not Libertarian, I hope, Brad – the horror, the horror!

      My views may seem highly technical, and it may be that the 14th Amendment would give Congress the authority even now to declare the fetus to be a human being, but I doubt it. The fact is that Congress does not have, and was never intended to have, what is known in law as the police power, that is the power to make general laws for the health and safety of the public (no, that hasn’t stopped them in recent years, but that doesn’t make what they’ve done right).

      That is why it is up to the states to protect the unborn, just as it was at the time of the Founding. We could amend the Constitution to declare every fetus a human being and a citizen of both the United States and the State in which he resides, but this again seems a strange way of doing things to me. I would rather amend the State Constitutions, one at a time, something that has needed doing for some time. Interestingly, Madison understood that the Federal Constitution gave too little protection against the states infringing upon private rights, but his proposed amendments could not pass the first Congress in a form that would more restrict the states.

      As to slavery, it was technically up to the states until the time of the 13th Amendment. This is generally recognized, so I’m not sure what the Libertarians are complaining about. Again, this was not a moral justification of slavery, just another indication that the State Constitutions did not then (as they still do not today) adequately protect the individual against the State.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        The 14th Amendment easily, and without twisting a thing or declaring police powers, covers the abortion issue:

        No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. . . The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

        The only question that remains is if an unborn baby is legally acknowledged as a person.

        • Timothy Lane says:

          Since the courts have been reluctant to admit that “persons” includes women (hence the push for the ERA, which should be totally unnecessary), it’s unlikely they’ll ever admit that the unborn are included at any stage. Of course, I titled an article in FOSFAX on the courts (to be precise, it was a review of the Politically Incorrect Guide to the Constitution, I think) “Sic Semper Tyrannis”.

  4. Timothy Lane says:

    This may be as good a place as any to mention the Texas primary run-offs held May 27. David Dewhurst, the conservative but Extablishment lieutenant governor, was defeated for renomination by an insurgent, and another won the attorney general nomination against an Establishment candidate, both by landslide margins. Also, for the first time this year, conservative Democrat-turned-Republican Ralph Hall, who was running for one last House term, was defeated for renomination — another insurgent victory, though Hall was endorsed by Ted Cruz and Michele Bachmann and thus is hardly a RINO. (But then, I don’t think Dewhurst is either.) So the grassroots movement (tea partiers and such) is not dead yet no matter what the Beltway Bandits say.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      As someone who voted in the run-offs and who is somewhat involved with the conservative movement in North Texas, I think the Tea Party victories of March and Tuesday were a result of people being fed up with the same old establishment Republicans. The victories have moved the Texas Republican party somewhat to the right in a way which will heighten the differences between the Dems and Reps in the November election.

      Dewhurst ran one of the most scurrilous campaigns in memory. He did the same in his race against Cruz and paid for it both times with a decisive loss. Dan Branch who lost the AG race to Paxton ran a similarly nasty campaign. He paid as well. Both the Dewhurst and Branch campaigns lied outrageously and the people showed that they were fed up with so-called Republicans viciously attacking other Republicans. Neither the Patrick nor Paxton campaigns sank to the low level of their opponents’.

      To give you an idea of Dewhurst’s character, his niece’s daughter (I believe) was caught shoplifting a year or so ago, not far from where I live. Dewhurst called the jail in which she was held and tried to push his weight around to get her released without bail. I believe he tried to get the charges dropped, but my memory could be faulty on that point. Unfortunately for him, the conversation was recorded and demonstrated what type of person he is. I think he mentioned he was the lt. governor three or four times during the conversation.

      Believe me when I say, many people are happy he will not be the next lt. governor.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        One thing I find especially interesting (and very irritating) about the Establishment candidates’ smear tactics against grassroots candidates is that they will never attack a Democrat so fiercely. “Politics ain’t beanbag”, as I believe Mr. Dooley rightly observed, so I could accept harsh tactics (though false charges are another matter). But when they attack their own side much more readily and fiercely than the other side, then one has to wonder whose side they’re really on.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          One thing I find especially interesting (and very irritating) about the Establishment candidates’ smear tactics against grassroots candidates is that they will never attack a Democrat so fiercely.

          And I think that shows you their ideological bent.

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