Has Rick Santorum made “the pursuit of happiness” a campaign issue?

by Eric Shierman

Until Tuesday night few outside Iowa have paid much attention to Rick Santorum. While researching for my book I have been watching him closely for the past two years. Santorum is known for being the most consistent and proven cultural conservative in the race. In an election focused on economics, it is understandable why he has struggled to gain traction with that brand, but Santorum is much more than a staunch religious conservative. He has a nuanced economic message that differs from his opponents as well. The reservations he holds against Thomas Jefferson’s wording of the Declaration of Independence is both revealing and fascinating.

Santorum first made his rejection of Jefferson’s belief that we have an inalienable right to the pursuit happiness an explicit campaign issue in the release of his 2005 book It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, a book clearly intended to frame his image for the tough reelection fight he would have the next year. He was running against a socially conservative Democrat named Bob Casey whose father famously sued Planned Parenthood as governor of Pennsylvania, a case that nearly overturned Roe v. Wade. As Santorum tried hard to position himself to Casey’s right on moral matters, a Democratic group named The Lantern Project set up a website called Santorumexposed.com that tried to highlight Santorum’s clarity on these cultural issues. Take a look at this exchange they dug up with Barry Nolan an obscure Comcast Channel talk show host:

This video went viral, but not for the reasons that The Lantern Project had in mind. Even though Santorum would go on to lose by 18%, Santorumexposed.com backfired. The many conservative Democratic voters of Pennsylvania saw clips like the one above and were reminded why they liked Santorum in the first place.

They still voted for Casey simply because he was not a Republican, but as he was losing, Santorum forged a new message. In response to more successful attacks by the Casey camp that tried to paint Santorum as a free-market ideologue, his campaign produced a pamphlet titled Fifty Things You May Not Know About Rick Santorum that highlighted votes he had cast where he thought the federal government should help ordinary Pennsylvanians. In a 2006 NPR interview, Santorum tried to bridge his opposition to Jefferson’s classical liberalism from the culture war to economic policy:

This idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone. That there is no such society that I am aware of, where we’ve had radical individualism and that it succeeds as a culture.

Since being voted out of office, Santorum has been working on a platform that is both staunchly socially conservative but also moderately social-democratic, that is to say he wants to tack to the right on cultural issues but slightly to the left on economics. This is a tremendous challenge to pull off in a Republican primary since you just cannot poke your finger into the eyeballs of the establishment this way and expect to raise a lot of money. It requires a consolidated evangelical voting bloc that until now has been shared with Perry and Bachman. It also requires some fudging.

The free market orthodoxy of the Republican Party is too entrenched from the Goldwater/Reagan tradition to be challenged directly. Santorum has had two predecessors to pioneer his path, but both failed for lack of establishment support. Pat Buchanan maintained his limited government image by opposing the welfare-state but was an economic populist against trade and globalization. Mike Huckabee was such a gifted orator, that his strategy was to talk a very convincing story about how Republicans have been too focused on the concerns the wealthy without actually proposing populist policies that deviated from his peers in that regard.

So far Santorum has incorporated both his predecessors’ approach to a limited degree. He has been critical of free-trade, supporting protectionist measures to support Pennsylvania’s steel industry. In this campaign he has been very consistently critical of his party for only promoting the interests of the wealthy. So far the only deviation from Republican economic orthodoxy that he focuses on has been his vision of having the federal government actively promoting manufacturing. If you missed his Iowa speech last Tuesday take the time to watch it in full:

He fills it with well delivered references to family values, but then at the 7:10 mark, after citing the laissez-faire positions he holds, Santorum pivots to an argument that free-markets are not enough. His message is that America needs a powerful and active Federal government that promotes morality and manufacturing.

Santorum has been honing this theme since 2005, but he finally hit a stride in a break-out moment at the Iowa State University debate on August 11. Nearly every Republican candidate is opposed to gay marriage, but they have held a limited government position that the 10th Amendment makes this a state issue. Santorum strongly challenged them on this:

The 10th Amendment is such a sturdy pillar of the Tea Party movement, regardless of whether or not you agree with Santorum on this issue, you have to admire his courage and authenticity. Since that debate the media has written him off so people outside of Iowa did not see how Santorum incorporated this moment into his retail-politicking stump speeches the next day to great effect that finally paid off this week:

I doubt Santorum will get the nomination; the Republican establishment will marginalize him the way it did Pat Buchanan and Mike Huckabee, but I think this novel platform of cultural and economic populism has a future. I just doubt it has a future in the Republican Party. I argue in my book (to be released later this month) that the Democratic Party will pick this theme up. Bob Casey is that future not Rick Santorum.

If you watched Mitt Romney’s speech on Tuesday night, perhaps you did not notice him taking the time to define what the founding fathers meant by the pursuit of happiness and why that vision is so central to his campaign. Now that you know the rest of the story watch it again (at the 6:45 mark):

Other momentous things have happened in America’s political culture this past decade well before Rahm Emanuel and Chuck Schumer decided to generously support religiously conservative Democrats against Republican strongholds in 2006. As Vice President for Government Affairs of the National Evangelical Association, Richard Cizik headed a working group called The Evangelical Project for Public Engagement that produced a document titled For the Health of the Nation: An Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility in 2004 which you can read here. Rick Warren later forged a very public relationship with Barack Obama that led to his delivering the invocation at Obama’s 2008 inauguration. Imagine that: the most influential evangelical minister in America was picked by a liberal Democrat to lead the country in prayer. These things were unthinkable in the 1990s. Rick Santorum’s rejection of an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness is the sign of bigger changes ahead.

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Posted by at 06:00 | Posted in 2012 Presidential Election | 14 Comments |Email This Post Email This Post |Print This Post Print This Post
  • Bob Clark

    Santorium’s philosphy seems too twisted to actually work in practice.  Trade protectionism most likely leads to trade retaliation which in turn leads to a reduced domestic economy.  Do we have to re-live Smoot-Hawley and the 1930s to understand the trap of trade protectionism.  Even Obama understands the need for freer trade.

    I think most of us GOPs are fiscal conservatives and not so much social conservatives.  In fact, the Ron Paul campaign is picking up much support from younger voters (even in college) because of his cultural liberalism combined with smaller government theme.  Ron Paul’s most serious weakness is his isolationism theme…most folks realize this theme only works in fairy tales.  I am hoping Rand Paul can follow up on his Father’s successful themes while softening the isolationist dream.  Boy, there’s going to be some real good GOP candidates for the 2016 election:  Chris Cristie who demonstrates the ability to spend public dollars much more wisely than Obama.  Rand Paul possibly taking over for his dad.  Marco Rubio who I don’t much about.  Paul Ryan.

    I think Santorium is off course because most folks want to scale back the growth in government at all levels rather than make it more active.  Still, there is a happy medium where government and private enterprise feed off each other to excel economic prosperity.  Obama’s problem is he’s too antagonistic towards business in his populist governance, a reflection of the 2008/09 financial meltdown (not unlike FDR’s anti business stifling in the Great Depression).

    It’s going to be difficult to dethrone Obama (We fiscal conservatives and Tea Partiers need to look at the situation as a long term slog on out to 2016).  The domestic economy seems to be heeling.  Obama stayed the course on the Iraq and Afghan wars but is now out of Iraq.  Osama Bin Laden’s 911 has been avenged.  Obama is talking a good strategy about building a security coalition in the western Pacific to put a body check on China if the latter proceeds to push its weight around in the South China Sea and indian Ocean.  If Obama were to talk about redirecting military strength in eastern Europe (Germany) towards the Persian Gulf as another body check on Iran, I think he’s got it covered on the foreign affairs front.  But miracles do happen, and maybe the GOP can retake the White House in ’12 and feed off the Bush II investment against Al Qaeda (as Obama is now).

  • Brandon

    Speaking on behalf of the economic and social laisse faire crowd, it takes a lot for Republicans to come up with a worse candidate than Obama but Santorum is such a candidate. He has the same flawed central planning ideas on the economy and wishes to expand that to social areas which seems like obvious Facism to me.  I have nothing good to say about Obama or Romney unless they are compared to Santorum where I can say: “at least Obama/ Romney aren’t coming into my bedroom”.  Santorum would cause multiples more people to not vote and/or vote Obama than vote for him. Obama’s campaign would be wise to donate money to Santorum to ensure their own victory.

  • JoelinPDX

    Santorum’s biggest problem is, was and will continue to be his 18 point loss in the Pennsylvania senate race. It was the biggest loss by a senate incumbent in history. That one election result dooms Santorum and proves he didn’t belong in this race in the first place.

  • HBguy

    Santorum and Paul seem like most opposite of all the republican candidates. The 21% Paul supporters will not vote for Santorum.  And the religious right will never vote for Paul. at least not in numbers. 

    And, If the Religious right and tea party rally around Santorum, that may guarantee Romney’s nomination. The only thing that can stop Romney, whom the Party king makers REALLY want, is a candidate who can unite the religious right, tea party and libertarians. I don’t think there is a candidate out there like that in this field. Long term, are we talking about Reagan Democrats, who are  finding no home in either major party right now? Maybe Eric is correct, that the Democrats can find someone to bring them back. But the Democrats are so intent on not supporting anyone within their party who is socially conservative, that I don’t see that happening either. At least not now.

    If the OWS folks could accept some socially conservative values, like school vouchers, parental notification, and the blue collar republicans could accept policies that may decrease wealth disparity (whatever those may be, but including higher taxes in higher income earners), could a third party ever emerge uniting these two protest groups? Or could there ever be a person who could actually move up in a major party hierarchy with that platform? 

    • valley person

      Romney is inevitable and has been since Perry opened his mouth. By default, he will win. Santorum is a shiny example of that default.

      How are school vouchers socially conservative? Aren’t they simply another proto libertarian innovation?

      3rd parties have no future in the US. Our winner takes all electoral system prevents them from gaining a toehold. What happens instead is transformation of existing parties, as has happened to Republicans over the last couple of decades once they “captured” the south. The south has now captured them.

      • HBguy

        Religious primary schools love vouchers. I mentioned school vouchers precisely because it is something social conservatives, and those progressives with libertarian sympathies could support.

        I agree that the electoral system, both within the states, and federally, would have to morph before a third party could take root. That’s why the minor parties should focus on democracy reform.

  • Anonymous

    Mr. Santorum represent why I had to leave the conservative   movement: Conservatives is much as statist as and liberal politician just in different areas including economic, social issues, and immigration   Listening to Mr. Santorum as he debates   a liberal with the same big government collectivist statist authoritarianism as a liberal. It will be strange times ahead. Worst is what I knew for years, the bulk of the religious right in the late 1990 shifted center left. Evangelical Call to Civic Responsibility in 2004 is pure bible twisting and  Dominionist Heresy.

  • Sol668

    The problem the corporatists on both the right and left have (neo liberals and laissez faire conservatives), are really the outcome of their policies.  How do you get the american citizenry to accept a declining standard of living, and a nation which increasingly serves only the interests of the tiniest of minorities at the top?

    As a progressive I love the posts below decrying the “over paid” fast food worker, the “union thug”.  Go on boys, sneer all you care to in your condescending tone.  Lets see how mercilessly you can put the boot on the throat of average people, with your high minded “rugged individualism”.  You’ll only aid people like me, and give Santorums message even more appeal.

  • valley person

    “Santorum is known for being the most consistent and proven cultural conservative in the race.”

    More than Michelle Bachmann? I mean, give her a break.

    ” that is to say he wants to tack to the right on cultural issues but slightly to the left on economics.”

    To the left of what or whom? Ron Paul? He is for the same tax cuts for the rich and cutting programs for the poor as every other Republican. He disguises this with rhetoric that sounds like he cares about working class people because his grandfather was working class. Left rhetoric does not equal left policies.

    “Bob Casey is that future not Rick Santorum.”

    Interesting theory, but it takes a bit of imagination to see an anti legal abortion Democrat as the future of anything. On trade, I’m not sure where Casey is, but if he leads a movement against free trade, then good for him. Somebody needs to.

    “Rick Santorum’s rejection of an inalienable right to the pursuit of happiness is the sign of bigger changes ahead.”

    But it makes so much sense doesn’t it? I mean, the Republican party is filled with such angry, unhappy, resentful people that banning the pursuit of happiness is a good central platform.  

  • David Appell

    Rick
    Santorum is dangerous. His hates those who he knows he can get away with hating, and some craven voters let him do it. But Santorum is exactly the type
    who would, in other times and places, have scolded, condemned, and persecuted
    whomever they could get away with persecuting — Jews, especially, but there
    have been many others.

     

    As
    such people have done for millenia, Santorum justifies his beliefs under the
    guise of religion, of whose deeper meanings he obviously knows nothing at all.
    He is heedless and would be extremely dangerous in a position of real power.

    I do not believe there is such a thing as “evil” that courses through the universe, but Santorum makes me wonder if I’m wrong.

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