Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Santorum's No Hero of the Working Class

With David Brooks, I can generally count on three things:
  1. Advice nominally directed at Democrats that, if followed, will help Republicans;

  2. Advice directed at Republicans that Brooks believes will help Republicans;

  3. Whenever facts get in the way of either of the above, a casual disregard for factual accuracy.

Occasionally he offers a respite in the form of a casual book review of whatever he's been reading lately - not from his anything-but-slavish devotion to fact, but at least from his pretense that he's anything but a Republican partisan.

So what to make of today's column about Rick Santorum? Does Brooks believe that Santorum, if nominated, would truly be a better candidate than Romney? Does he simply want the horse race to continue, fearing that he'll be reduced to writing book review columns if the process ends quickly? Does he believe that the Republican Party or Romney will be improved by at least some degree of a contest for the nomination, rather than the quick coronation preferred in the past?

Brooks admits that he doesn't expect Santorum to win - that he expects him to get buried - so why the puff piece. I expect that Brooks is hoping that Santorum can do well enough in the short term to keep Romney from wrapping up the nomination, and that one of the other candidates will be the next to enjoy a bubble and actually take the nomination. That is, I think Brooks is sincere when he complains of Romney,
This year, Romney is trying to establish some emotional bond with the working class by waging a hyperpatriotic campaign: I may be the son of a millionaire with a religion that makes you uncomfortable, but I love this country just like you. The strategy appears to be only a partial success.
Partial success as in, pretty much a failure. Add to that how he's going to look if he continues to refuse to release his tax returns, or does release them and continues to advance mainstream Republican policy that wage earners can see directly translate into another seven or eight figures off the top of Mitt "I'm unemployed like you" Romney's next tax bill.

Brooks praises Santorum for backing social welfare bills, turning a blind eye to Santorum's recent racially-tinged comments on welfare.1 Perhaps, though, Brooks doesn't care about such trivial aspects of Santorum's character as his views on race, given that he's defining the Republican Party as "the party of the white working class". Brooks praises Santorum for driving a pick-up truck to campaign stops, as if that's a new stunt for a would-be Republican nominee. Santorum pats himself on his back for working hard and claims to be an outsider - and Brooks is impressed? His grandpa worked in a coal mine? One of his parents was an immigrant? As an elected official he represented steel towns. Dare I say, so what? Santorum talks about religion, "family" and "social solidarity" - Brooks find that unique? He sneers at the poltical left and doubts the validity of their faith - Brooks would be among the first to screech about elitism and condescension if a Democratic candidate made a similar comment about the political right.

Brooks contends that Santorum "is not a representative of the corporate or financial wing of the party", but beyond stating that Santorum likes "to pick fights with the 'supply-siders'" fails to identify even one meaningful departure from the Republican line. Santorum "scorns the Wall Street bailouts"? Standard Republican demagoguery. And if you believe that the candidates attacking TARP truly would have opposed it if it might have failed to pass or had their own party's President been in office, I'll be happy to sell you this nice bridge that's coming up for sale in a town called Brooklyn. Brooks brings up tax policy - the fact is there's no material difference between Santorum's tax policy and that of any of the other Republican candidates - tax cuts for the rich, benefits cuts for the rest of us. But hey - we get a third war in the Middle East, perhaps the biggest quagmire yet, and that's almost as good, right?
His economic arguments are couched as values arguments: If you want to enhance long-term competitiveness, you need to strengthen families. If companies want productive workers, they need to be embedded in wholesome communities.
That's not a policy statement, it's pablum, and it's completely divorced from reality. Companies have been happy to abandon wholesome communities, to let them founder and collapse, in their pursuit of cheaper labor - moving from the industrial north to the "right to work" south, and from there to Mexico, to Asia and China. Why does Santorum think that strong families will make U.S. companies more competitive? For that matter, who are the competitors he's concerned about? China? Germany? Why do they have stronger families than us and, if Santorum contends they don't, why is he worried that they'll outperform U.S. companies? What does it mean for a company to be "embedded in wholesome communities"? Is Manhattan a "wholesome community" and, if not, why is it so darn productive? Aren't we really talking in code here - pandering to the notion that red state values and communities are somehow superior - again something that if said by a Democrat in a similar context would have Brooks calling him an elitist snob?

Let's take a step back and think about what, to Brooks, supposedly makes Santorum so special. He has a parent who is an immigrant.2 He has a grandparent who worked in a blue collar job. He represented a region containing steel mills. Grandfather, father, steel mills.... Really.... On the negative side he "seems to have a Tourette’s syndrome2 that causes him to say the most unpopular thing imaginable"2 - which appears to mean that he has a poor internal censor and says what he means. He's everything that President Obama is, and less!

Way less. But how do you avoid pointing out that Obama has all of Santorum's supposed virtues without sharing his faults, at least as identified by Brooks? If you're David Brooks, by pointing out that Obama went to Harvard.
If you took a working-class candidate from the right, like Santorum, and a working-class candidate from the left, like Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and you found a few islands of common ground, you could win this election by a landslide. The country doesn’t want an election that is Harvard Law versus Harvard Law.
It's worth noting that Santorum has a B.A., M.B.A., and J.D. (law degree), all from Penn State. He may not strike you as much of an intellect, but he has a stack of degrees from a quality school. But not Harvard, so Brooks leaves out all relevant points of comparison in order to suggest that the President is some form of pointy-headed elitist while Santorum is a champion of the working masses. And wow - one of those insipid notions of a split party ticket as the sort of bipartisan enterprise that could wow the nation. Where did that "" Sherrod Brown go to school, I wonder. (Three seconds searching Google.) Among Brown's colleges is the school known across America for its working class values, Yale, where Brown "was in Davenport College, the same residential college as U.S. Presidents George H. W. and George W. Bush", Yale. Did you follow? Harvard vs. Harvard: "The country doesn’t want" it. Harvard vs. Yale: "you could win this election by a landslide"!

Brooks also complains that candidates who might otherwise do well get "buried under a wave of money and negative ads". Republican candidates, that is. And in this campaign, buried because they're not running serious campaigns, are horribly incompetent, can't keep themselves from sticking their feet in their mouths, or some combination of the three. Perhaps Brooks missed the wave of money and barrage of negative ads directed at candidates John Kerry and Barack Obama. Or perhaps "it's different" because unlike, say, Kerry who faced the mendacious, dishonest swift boat ads, candidates like Gingrich are Santorum are facing negative ads that focus on facts. No, that can't be it - he didn't address the fabrications, but chose instead to go negative on Kerry. So it must be that negative ads are horrible if, and only if, they're directed at Republicans that Brooks likes, and those he wouldn't support but whose (misrepresented5) past experiences provide a smokescreen that he hopes will keep the reader from seeing the inherent weakness of his argument.

Here's the thing: People say they don't like negative ads, but voters respond to them. Yes, they can be very dishonest and unfair and, when they gain traction and the media doesn't do its job, can be seriously detrimental to a candidate. But negative ads, when true, aren't necessarily either unfair or inappropriate - and, to the extent that his point holds, the type of negative ads that have "buried" any of the candidates Brooks lists have focused on the truth. The fact is (sorry if you like them), the type of negative ads run against candidates like those Brooks listed can do the party a favor, by eliminating them before they're nominated and cost the party the election.

At the end of Brooks' dismal editorial you still don't know who he wants (save, perhaps, for somebody who's not running), but it's pretty clear that he fears that Romney is going to win the nomination and lose the White House.
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1. Some insist that Santorum isn't racist. Santorum's own "defense" of his statement that he doesn't want to make "black people's lives better" is that he doesn't recall the statement and may have been reacting to the movie "Waiting for Superman" - but he wasn't talking about that movie, and it would be pretty incredible to watch that movie and have "I don't want to make black people's lives better" as your take-away.

2. Never mind that both of Santorum's parents were white collar government employees, working for the V.A.

3. Can you imagine a world in which candidate Obama had said something along the lines of, "I don't want to make white people's lives easier"? Such rank incompetence, the implantation of his foot that deeply in his mouth, would have ended his political career forever. For Santorum, tee hee, it's "Tourette's".

4. Brooks intends to reach moderate and secular voters with his piece as evidenced by that quote, attributed to "[Santorum's] ally in the AIDS fight, Bono," and his suggestion that Santorum's religious fervor resonates with the religious right even though his response to his baby's stillbirth "tends to be deeply creepy to many secular people" (read: is creepy to Brooks). Anybody Bono works with, after all, has to be okay with the "center" and unusual religious beliefs and practices are fine... unless the candidate is a Democrat.

5. Brooks writes,
Other times a candidate will emerge who taps into a working-class vibe — Pat Buchanan, Mike Huckabee or Sarah Palin. But, so far, these have been flawed candidates who get buried under an avalanche of negative ads and brutal coverage.
Pat Buchanan's quests to become President were no more credible than Jesse Jackson's. Mike Huckabee did really well, considering that his party didn't want him to win, and I'm not sure what negative ads Brooks believes "buried" him. Sarah Palin wasn't the candidate, and John McCain didn't lose because of negative ads targeting her. Palin flourished on negativity, a proud victim to the end, but when she alienated Rupert Murdoch she lost her access to his publicity machine - her mistake was that she appeared to believe that she was a self-generated phenomenon, rather than understanding that she was a product, manufactured and promoted by News Corp.

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