UNITED STATES: by Bill MuehlenbergNews Weekly
Rick Santorum and the road to the White House
, February 18, 2012
As we get closer to November 2012, the field of aspirants seeking the Republican Party nomination to challenge President Barack Obama gets further thinned down.
As we get fewer candidates, we can get closer to seeing who may be the best choice.
There are various ways of doing this of course. One must not only assess a politician’s public statements and speeches, but look at his voting record as well. Where has he stood on the issues and how has he voted on them? Voting records as well as the opinions of friends and foes are part of the means of how we can judge a candidate.
For example, on the issue of abortion, we can look at how a candidate has voted, and also look at pro-choice and pro-life assessments. Thus the US pro-abortion lobby group, NARAL, has given Santorum a zero per cent rating. As to his voting record, he has done quite well.
Also consider just some of the important life issues he has voted on during the past 15 years:
• He voted yes on banning partial-birth abortions.
• He voted yes on banning human cloning.
• He voted yes on notifying parents of minors who get out-of-state abortions.
• He voted yes on banning partial-birth abortions except for maternal life.
• He voted no on spending US$100 million to reduce teen pregnancy by education and contraceptives.
• He voted yes on criminal penalties for harming an unborn foetus during other crimes.
Abortion is, of course, only one important issue of concern to Christians and conservatives. But in addition to his speeches, voting patterns, and so on, Santorum has also given us a full-length look at his worldview and policy preferences.
Back in 2005 the Pennsylvania Senator wrote a 450-page manifesto, outlining his beliefs and political preferences. The book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good (available from News Weekly books — see page 21 of this issue), is still worth getting and reading today.
The volume elaborates on his core beliefs and provides detailed arguments for his version of conservatism. He uses the noted phrase of Russell Kirk to argue that “the fundamental conservative disposition in politics is the ‘stewardship of a patrimony’.”
That is, conservatism is about conserving, preserving and being a good steward of our inheritance. “We know that the good things in American life that we are tempted to take for granted are not necessarily ours by nature or by chance, but are the result of the constant efforts of those who came before us.”
He argues that there are various kinds of capital that have been given to us and of which we are to be good stewards. He speaks of social, economic, moral, cultural and intellectual capital. All five must be championed in order for a healthy and strong nation to continue.
In all this he sees the family as the fundamental building block of society. The family “creates, strengthens, nurtures and replenishes each of these stores of capital. And each of these kinds of capital directly affects the strength and stability of family.”
I like his very strong emphasis on family, which tends to go missing, if not be minimised, by some libertarian candidates. Santorum knows that the rights and goods enumerated in the American founding documents applied not just to isolated individuals, but to communities as well.
Says Santorum: “The framers clearly stated that the purpose of the Constitution — and, therefore, of all these individual rights — is to promote the general welfare, not simply the welfare of the individual.
“The men who wrote the Constitution gave us, in the Preamble, a purpose for these personal freedoms — a purpose greater than the needs, wants or dreams of any one person. Freedom’s goal in their mind was not individuals pursuing whatever end fits an individual’s desire, but the general welfare, the common good.”
But it is not the abstract society of the leftists which Santorum has in mind. His book title is of course a swipe at Hillary Clinton’s earlier book, It Takes a Village. “Liberals like Senator Clinton see ‘the village’ as society as a whole — influenced by, directed by, supported by, the supposed goodness of the Bigs in general and big government in particular.
“Forty years of liberal social policy have been built on the notion that the national government in conjunction with the other Bigs can improve the lives of individuals from the top down, and the village elders have spent trillions of dollars trying to do just that.”
In contrast, conservatives, according to Santorum, “see ‘the village’ as, well, the village: the local community, with the family at the centre of it. We believe that only strong families can improve the lives of individuals, especially children, and make for healthy communities.”
Leftist statists distrust families and mediating structures. But, as Santorum rightly notes, “social capital is generated at three levels: the family, the intermediate institutions, and the larger community”. And religious congregations “are, by an overwhelming margin, the most important intermediate institution outside of the family for the vast majority of Americans”.
These religious groups “are virtually unequal in creating huge amounts of social capital”, but they are opposed by the leftists. That is because “religious institutions stand between [the statists] and the individuals they seek to fashion in their own image”.
The importance of moral capital is also most significant. I have already mentioned abortion, which Santorum says is “the great moral issue of our time”. (Recall in contrast how our former Australian PM Kevin Rudd proclaimed that climate change deserved that title.)
Says Santorum: “Abortion is a toxin methodically polluting our fragile moral ecosystems. It poisons everyone it touches, from the mother and her ill-fated child, to the mother and father’s families, to the abortion-provider, to each of us who stands as a silent witness to this destruction and debasement of human life.”
Just imagine if a major Australian political leader were to speak so forthrightly. Indeed, in marked contrast to Australian politics, a good part of the Republican primaries has been spent on the various candidates seeking to prove how pro-life they are. If we only had such a “problem” here in this country!
As stated, I encourage you to pick up a copy of his book. It is a solidly Christian and conservative tome, and helps explain where Santorum is coming from. Needless to say, he is not perfect. All the Republican front-runners have their strengths and weakness.
Thus this article is not necessarily intended to suggest that Santorum is my main man. It is still early days yet, and much can and will change in the forthcoming months.
But of those who remain in the fight for the Republican nomination, Santorum is looking to be among the best choices available for those who are concerned to get a strong Christian and conservative to stand up against President Obama in November.
Bill Muehlenberg is a commentator on contemporary issues, and lectures on ethics and philosophy. His website CultureWatch is at: www.billmuehlenberg.com