Friday, January 06, 2012

Rick Santorum's Inability to Articulate Good Policy

I recognize that I'm suddenly supposed to accept Rick Santorum as a serious candidate (just like every other bubble candidate who came before him), blame past coverage of his liabilities on unfair treatment by the media, and pretend that this time (just like every other time) he is resonating with the public not because voters are desperate for an alternative to Mitt Romney but because Santorum offers something that's truly different. Yeah, right.

Let's be honest for a moment: Mitt Romney's level of support has been pretty steady - not just in this campaign, but even in relation to five years ago. His level of support in Iowa were pretty much the same as it was four years ago. Other candidates have, for the most part, been able to obtain a much lower level of support from their respective bases, but have been sequentially buoyed by a series of bubbles. Each time we hear the same thing: This guy or gal could be the "real thing", and each time the bubble bursts - not because the media has previously been unfair to the candidate, but because the media has previously not taken the candidate seriously and thus spared him serious scrutiny.

The real difference this time is that those who really don't want Romney to get the nomination are out of options. They can pray for Rick Perry to have a miraculous comeback, they can pray for Rick Santorum to tread water long enough to keep Romney from locking up the nomination, they can even hope that Ron Paul continues to pull a significant "none of the above" vote, Ross Perot style, for a bit longer. But as much as some want to pretend that he's a serious, credible candidate, that "Tourette's Syndome" excuse is not going to carry the day, nor will he be able to credibly deny his more bizarre or inappropriate statements by claiming confusing followed up by dubious stories about what he "really said".

Some of Santorum's problems arise from the fact that, having not been taken seriously as a candidate, his past statements have not received much scrutiny. He's in the "success hasn't spoiled me yet" phase of his bubble - but he need look no further than Ron Paul to see whether his past statements and associations are likely to remain buried.

When you hear Santorum talk about foreign policy issues, it's clear that he doesn't understand foreign policy. It seems pretty clear as well that he doesn't understand the economy. So what does he understand? What's his saving grace? That he's a social conservative who opposes, in essence, feminism, reproductive freedom, equal rights for gay citizens, and... civil rights in general?
[Santorum] declared himself against individualism, against libertarianism, against “this whole idea of personal autonomy, . . . this idea that people should be left alone.” And in this 2005 TV interview, you can hear these classic hits: “This is the mantra of the left: I have a right to do what I want to do” and “We have a whole culture that is focused on immediate gratification and the pursuit of happiness . . . and it is harming America.”
Or as Jonathan Rauch observed,
Though he is a populist critic of Big Government, Santorum shows no interest in defining principled limits on political power. His first priority is to make government pro-family, not to make it small. He has no use for a constitutional (or, as far as one can tell, moral) right to privacy, which he regards as a "constitutional wrecking ball" that has become inimical to the very principle of the common good. Ditto for the notions of government neutrality and free expression. He does not support a ban on contraception, but he thinks the government has every right to impose one.
I don't think that Santorum is a stupid man - he seems to be slightly above average in his intelligence - but he's not a thoughtful man. Despite being a career politician and campaigner, he either has little interest in or little aptitude for understanding some pretty basic issues.

Consider his recent statement on Palestinians - that there are no Palestinians and the occupied territories are actually part of Israel. From a "pandering to a reactionary base" standpoint, such a statement may have seemed right to Santorum, but would he actually proceed with that as U.S. policy? Not if he understands anything about the conflict and the fact that Israel does not want to transform the Palestinian population of the West Bank into Israeli citizens. Has he completely missed the entire discussion of a two state solution, and why Israel does not want to annex the West Bank and Gaza along with their Palestinian populations? Apparently so, but how?

Consider his statements on the military - predictably he does not want gay people to be able to serve, but he couldn't stop there:
Asked by a YouTube questioner whether he would try to reverse the policy allowing gays to serve in the military, Santorum responded: “Any type of sexual activity has absolutely no place in the military.”

In his longer answer, the former Pennsylvania senator clarified that his objection to repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was that it was an attempt to “inject social policy” into military policy.

When it comes to sex in uniform, Santorum said: “Keep it to yourself, whether you are heterosexual or homosexual.”
So it seems that Santorum wants our nation's soldiers to be celibate, and to give no hint to each other of their sexual interests, even if they're heterosexual. How can an anti-gay rights zealot like Santorum, who was in a position of national leadership during extensive debate of "don't ask, don't tell", be that clueless both about what it means, let alone think that you can expect enlisted personnel to be both celibate and completely discreet about their sexual preferences for their years of service.

As a guy who has made stupid comments in the past about gay marriage, leading to his so-called "Google problem", you would think he might have thought about what to say when the issue again, inevitably, arose. And apparently he did - but his new response is also vapid:
"Are we saying everyone should have the right to marry? So anyone can marry anyone else?" Santorum asked, according to a video by NBC News. "So anybody can marry several people?"

The former Pennsylvania senator was clearly on the defensive throughout the exchange, as he attempted to prevent the back-and-forth from becoming a free-for-all.

"We're going to have a civil discussion or were going to move on to another question," he said at one point. Confronted by one critic, he fired back, "What about three men?"

Clearly antagonized, Santorum continued, "If it makes three people happy to get married, based on what you just said, what makes that wrong and what you said right?"
While this time he didn't say that allowing gay marriage would be tantamount to "man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be." But he did suggest that gay marriage is tantamount to allowing polygamy and, as he's never retracted the prior statement, effectively added polygamy to his list of things that are like "man on child, man on dog". He makes no effort to explain how polygamy becomes inevitable from allowing gay marriage, or why it's not the inevitable result of straight marriage. We could put it like this: Would Santorum, himself, be lobbying for polygamy if gay marriage became the law of the land? If not, why not - and why doesn't he believe that most Americans would share his values and continue to insist that marriage is between two partners? No need to drag pets, kids, or third parties into it.

I recognize that the Republican Party tries to portray itself as a party of the average guy, with the candidate you would most like to drink a beer with, and that past would-be nominees, nominees, and even incumbent Presidents have played down their intelligence in order to better connect with the presumed Republican voter. But this is important: Santorum's not playing.

Update: I won't attempt to determine if Gail Collins is offering excerpts representative of Santorum's book, "It Takes a Family", or if she's picking his most absurd claims, but her examples highlight Santorum's intellectual mediocrity:
Santorum looks at Clinton’s village and sees something like the evil mountain in “Lord of the Rings.” Everything the liberal elders do is for the worst possible motives. They don’t want to legalize same-sex marriage so that gay couples can have the right to commit themselves permanently and legally to each other. The liberals/gays don’t believe in lifelong commitments! They only believe in “a kind of cohabitation,” where you can pack up and leave any time you like, and now they’re trying to impose that on the poor, monogamous peasants.
I would say that I would love to hear Santorum explain how laws that allow people enter what even he might acknowledge to be the bonds of matrimony are in fact designed to break down family relationships. Up is down, left is right,and all that. But I can't say that, because honestly, after seeing some of his prior attempts to defend his poorly considered positions I don't want to listen to Santorum.

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