Monday, February 27, 2012

Why Not A Culture Warrior?

Rick Santorum by Gage Skidmore
It took a little longer than I thought. But - as the prospect of Mitt Romney losing Michigan seems more real - the GOP establishment is finally launching its attack on Rick Santorum.

During that last few days, columns by conservative pundits have appeared basically making the case that Rick Santorum is just too extreme in his social views to be viable in the general election.

This was always going to be tricky for individuals that built their political careers by convincing religious voters that a vote for Democrats means the end of morality in the United States. Also tricky for conservative pundits, writers who sold millions of books to values voters making the case that Democrats, liberals, progressives are not "real" Americans. Books advocating bringing back an America of a different time when children were allowed to pray in public schools, sex was approved only within the bonds of marriage and abortion was illegal.

"Santorum is a good man. He’s just a good man in the wrong century." declares Kathleen Parker. But is Santorum or the GOP in the wrong century? The reality is that Santorum's positions on social issues are the right in line with the Republican Party Platform. As a matter of fact, they are no different that Mitt Romney's current positions on social issues. The only difference is that Santorum believes in his stances and Romney is perceived as going through the motions in an effort to get the GOP nomination.

Dorothy Rabinowitz writes in the Wall Street Journal that Santorum's attitude towards separation of church and state "... isn't something the citizenry tends to find endearing." I happen to think that Ms. Rabinowitz is correct in her conclusion. However, Santorum's view is widely shared among GOP grassroots activists. The GOP platform states "We affirm every citizen’s right to apply religious values to public policy..." Kennedy's attitude that religion is a private matter and should have no influence on public policy isn't something the GOP base finds endearing.

It is simply amusing to watch GOP establishment figures fret over Santorum's assertion that birth control "... it's a license to do things in a sexual realm that is contrary to how things are supposed to be." Where were they when Republicans promoted abstinence only programs because comprehensive sex education was seen as a tacit approval for licentious behavior? Let's face it. Culture wars have been the bread and butter of Republican politics for decades. Feigning shock is not going to change reality.

And why shouldn't social conservatives have their dream candidate? Parker and Rabinowitz would say because Santorum is too conservative to win. But have the moderates fared any better? Do they remember Dole and McCain? George W. Bush lost the popular vote in 2000 and was able to make it across the finish line because of few military votes in Florida and a controversial Supreme Court decision. Yes, he did win re-election but the memory of 9/11 was still fresh and the Democrats decided to be tactical in their selection of a nominee.

There is no question that Santorum would offer a stark contrast to Barack Obama on just about every policy front. When it comes to TARP and the auto bailout, Santorum has a solid record of opposing them. He can credibly take on Obamacare. And on social issues Santorum offers the opportunity to have a national conversation about the role of religion in politics, birth control, whether we have constitutional right to privacy, abortion, definition of family. More importantly, a Santorum nomination will provide the GOP an opportunity to find out whether its social agenda belongs in the past.