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Like a bad penny

March 31, 2012
The Inter-Mountain

He just doesn't go away. Rick Santorum, despite the punditocracy, continues his campaign and in some places wins. But neither the denizens at CNN, the network of the well-heeled, or even FOX credits him when he beats Mitt Romney. Even while he was winning an almost 50 percent blowout in Louisiana, commentators were musing that it was all for naught. But the former senator from Pennsylvania pushes on despite the prognosticators.

Reasons for his doggedness are clear, he is representing a faction of the Republican Party that has been asked usually to work hard and shut up. Evangelicals and ardent Christian voters have concerns that bedevil the affluent GOP establishment. They have watched in horror as a culture and society in their view descended into coarseness and senseless materialism. Although they are pro-free enterprise, for these voters money does not represent the full measure of success. It is measured in family, faith and patriotism.

Despite low taxes and declining services thanks to the Ayn Randist Congressional Republicans, Christian rightists' vision for a wholesome America has not been attained. Santorum has shed the supply side to embrace the social fears of his constituents. After each primary, he cheerfully displays his faith and, never failing, salutes his sick 3-year-old Bella. He can be irritating with his obsessions with gay rights and contraception, but he insists on challenging new assumptions of what makes a healthy society. For this, regardless of viewpoint, you can admire him for placing principle over primary wins.

Mike Huckabee started questioning the unbridled materialism which he believed created the social laxity that he and others abhor. But Huckabee went Hollywood and became everybody's favorite right winger, sort of a conservative Norman Thomas, who was a socialist to the rich. Santorum is not out to wow the elite. Indeed, he goes out of his way to challenge what he regards as their smug certainties.

You can at least admire the attempt, but it would be nice if someone on the left showed equal boldness. Santorum, as with Hillary Clinton in 2008, struck a nerve with working Americans. He heightened their suspicions that the system was not so much based on merits as connections. When he rebuked President Barack Obama a few weeks ago for advocating that everyone should go to college, he meant that not all skills were attained in a classroom. Clumsy, for Obama was not being a "snob" in that case, but Santorum's point was well taken.

For years, evangelicals were mocked for their style and rigidity in favor of tradition. Yet few of their virtues were ever brought to light. Christian voters, especially southerners, give more to charity than any other group. Community is not just a slogan that is trotted out every time the business charities desire, but a genuine drive to help neighbors and friends. The only problem is that evangelicals have a narrow view of what the community should look like. But, as for their generosity, even their worst critics would concede that it is real. Perhaps Ron Paul's "virtues of selfishness" credo has fallen flat in the South because the region rejects naked and brutal materialism.

Particularly entertaining are the attempts by self-styled "moderates" in the GOP to recast themselves in that role. Only in a fantasy are they moderates or Edmund Burke conservatives. For them, moderation is a cover - or at least Santorum suspects - to preserve power for the usual group. Let the so-called meritocracy dominate simply because it has the right to monopolize the profits and prestige. Keep it in the family and occasionally reward a compliant reporter with a recommendation letter for their child to St. Albans, Madeira and Sidwell Friends. Mitt Romney should have the nomination, if for nothing else, because he looks the part.

There are no moderates in the Republican party. But Santorum has raised a question similar to Barry Goldwater's in 1964, "What kind of country do you want to have?" A new Republican Party might be aborning thanks to the persistence of Rick Santorum.



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