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Sunday, October 29, 2006

Rick Santorum's war on poverty 


One of the problems with the current climate of extreme partisanship is that there is enormous pressure -- or at least a great tendency -- to draw candidates in charicature. Some candidates are more prone to that than others, and perhaps the leading example is Pennsylvania's Senator Rick Santorum. It is easy to think of him as a rigid social conservative -- I did, until I started paying attention about a year ago -- but he is much more than that. For example, Rick Santorum may well be more concerned with eradicating domestic and global poverty than any other sitting Senator. See what David Brooks had to say in his column this morning:

Every poll suggests that Rick Santorum will lose his race to return to the U.S. Senate. That's probably good news in Pennsylvania's bobo suburbs, where folks regard Santorum as an ideological misfit and a social blight. But it's certainly bad for poor people around the world.

For there has been at least one constant in Washington over the past 12 years: almost every time a serious piece of antipoverty legislation surface in Congress, Rick Santorum is there playing a leadership role.

In the mid-1990s, he was a floor manager for welfare reform, the most successful piece of domestic legislation of the past 10 years. He then helped found the Renewal Alliance to help charitable groups with funding and parents with flextime legislation.

More recently, he has pushed through a stream of legislation to help the underprivileged, often with Democratic partners. With Dick Durbin and Joe Biden, Santorum has sponsored a series of laws to fight global AIDS and offer third world debt relief. With Chuck Schumer and Harold Ford, he's pushed to offer savings accounts to children from low-income families. With John Kerry, he's proposed homeownership tax credits. With Chris Dodd, he backed legislation authorizing $860 million for autism research. With Joe Lieberman he pushed legislation to reward savings by low-income families.

In addition, he's issued a torrent of proposals, many of which have become law: efforts to fight tuberculosis; to provide assistance to orphans and vulnerable children in developing countries; to provide housing for people with AIDS; to increase funding for Social Services Block Grants and organizations like Healthy Start and the Children's Aid Society; to finance community health centers; to combat genocide in Sudan.

I could fill this column, if not this entire page, with a list of ideas, proposals and laws Santorum has poured out over the past dozen years. It's hard to think of another politician who has been so active and so productive on these issues.

Like many people who admire his output, I disagree with Santorum on key matters like immigration, abortion, gay marriage. I'm often put off by his unnecessarily slashing style and his culture war rhetoric.

But government is ultimately not about the theater or the light shows of public controversy, it's about legislation and results. And the substance of Santorum's work is impressive. Bono, who has worked closely with him over the years, got it right: "I would suggest that Rick Santorum has a kind of Tourette's disease; he will always say the most unpopular thing. But on our issues, he has been a defender of the most vulnerable."

Rick Santorum pays more attention to the problem of poverty than Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, John Edwards, Harry Reid, or Hillary Rodham Clinton, and if he is defeated Democrats who care about the poor will find that their hand has been weakened, not strengthened. Brooks adds,
The bottom line is this: If serious antipoverty work is going to be done, it's going to emerge from a coalition of liberals and religious conservatives. Without Santorum, that's less likely to happen. If senators are going to be honestly appraised, it's going to require commentators who can look beyond the theater of public controversy and at least pretend to care about actual legislation. Santorum has never gotten a fair shake from the media.

Presumably the response of a partisan Democrat would be that Republicans generally do not care about poverty, however praiseworthy Senator Santorum's work in the area might be, and that Democratic control of the Senate will do more for the poor than any one Republican senator possibly can. Perhaps, but Brooks' last point -- that religious conservatives will make an important contribution to the war on poverty if only Democrats let them -- leads to a more sweeping observation: it was not inevitable that passionate Christians became Republicans. They share many objectives with liberals, particularly regarding poverty and the environment. Indeed, the first modern evangelical president was Jimmy Carter. But religious traditionals were driven from the Democratic party by the activists of the left, who in their zeal to transform the United States into a European-style "social democratic" state made abortion and gay rights and other cultural issues virtual requirements for influence within the party.

9 Comments:

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Sun Oct 29, 08:05:00 PM:

That is because the culture war is what is important to the left, however much they claim otherwise. The poor, developing nations, Iraqi civilians - if they cared about these things, there would be other statements and actions coming from the left about these problems, but those statements and actions are missing.

I overgeneralize. There are of course people on the left who care greatly about these things and work for them. They think that the problem with their fellows is apathy and lack of awareness. It is not. Having their world view about how things are supposed to work is more important than results to the Boomer liberals. Countries are supposed to get along by more talking and goodwill, poverty is supposed to be relieved by rich people not being selfish, teen pregnancy and AIDS are supposed to be solved by more condoms on bananas - therefore these things are true, regardless of the numbers.

I used to be one. I still hear them every day at work. Validation of their moral and intellectual superiority is the most important thing.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Sun Oct 29, 09:24:00 PM:

"Validation of their moral and intellectual superiority is the most important thing."

So true.

Not two weeks ago I got into an in-depth (and friendly) political discussion with the wife of a friend of mine. She's about 24, going to college after a tour in the Army to a California university and a brand new, dyed in the wool, 'my professors have opened my eyes,' pot-smoking, bleeding heart liberal. Her major is 'international studies.' (which, judging from the ensuing conversation, is apparently a touchy-feely version of 'international government')

She made the terrible mistake of directing the conversation to 1st, the Middle East, and 2nd, American military history, both of which are intellectual babies of mine. I'll skip the sordid details, but as her misconceptions and historical ignorance became clear on several topics (politely; recall this is a civil discussion with a friend) and I demonstrated how one of her favorite professors had outright lied to her class, (something about there being a fleet of atomic bombers ready to incinerate the whole of Japan in 1945...) she actually started to cry.

"But that's not how things should be! *sniffle*" she said.

"No, but that's how things are."  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Sun Oct 29, 11:42:00 PM:

You made a soldier cry, Dawnfire? That's pretty harsh.

Where did she spend her tour?  

By Blogger ScurvyOaks, at Mon Oct 30, 10:57:00 AM:

AVI hits the nail on the head. Shrinkwrapped has written in a similar vein:

"Being a liberal in the modern world means we are smarter, more ethical, more caring (holier than thou, even); more importantly, if we can only share our innate goodness with other rational people, and try to help them solve the root causes of their distress (send them money because they are poor, give up our rights so they won't feel offended), they will see we are friends and will no longer try to harm us. The fact that none of this works is irrelevant; it is not meant to work in reality, but to make us feel more comfort and security." (And -- especially -- more self-justification.)

Alas, Santorum is surely going to lose. (Those Main Line bobos that Brooks understands so well likely feel acute embarrassment most of the times that they hear Santorum say anything.) But I would be very surprised if he stops making a difference.  

By Blogger Lanky_Bastard, at Mon Oct 30, 12:09:00 PM:

No mention of the junior senator's position on minimum wage or social security? Those topics seem relevant.  

By Blogger Assistant Village Idiot, at Mon Oct 30, 09:25:00 PM:

One would think so, Lanky Bastard. But as the minimum wage and social security discussions are laden with misinformation - all of which can be used to paint Santorum as a heartless SOB who wants to steal money from Good Folks - then I would have to say, no, the discussions aren't relevant with respect to Santorum. They can be used as clubs by people who prefer rhetoric to results, but that's hardly a discussion.  

By Blogger Dawnfire82, at Mon Oct 30, 09:28:00 PM:

To my knowledge, she spent her entire enlistment (aside from training at Leonard Wood and the Presidio) at Fort Gordon doing strategic level SIGINT intercepts as an Arabist.

Maybe if she'd seen some Islamist handiwork up close, she'd hold different opinions about the world...  

By Anonymous Tigerhawk Teenager, at Sat Dec 16, 12:07:00 AM:

I heard Santorum interviewed on NPR. One thing I noticed many times was that the interviewer kept trying to put words in his mouth. The interviewer interpreted, for example, "Partitioning of Iraq" as "Breakup of Iraq."

I don't really have much of an opinion on Santorum, because the only thing I know about him I've learned from the school newspaper, and that is NOT something you formulate an opinion on, no matter how Quakerly the paper may be.  

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