Some Guy Named Santorum

November 8, 2006 | by | Topic: The DNA of GreatnessPrint Print

I will never forget the first time I heard of Rick Santorum. It was 1990 and I was a student at the University of Pittsburgh, where I was editorial page editor of the campus newspaper. I was approached by Tara Fedo, president of the College Republicans. She had just attended a meeting of the Allegheny County Young Republicans. “I met this lawyer there,” she told me. “Some guy running for Congress against Doug Walgren.” I asked his name. “Rick Santorum,” she said. “Rick S-A-N-T-O-R-U-M.”

Tara said she had invited Santorum to campus to speak. I laughed: “A conservative Republican running in Allegheny County?! He doesn’t have a chance. It might be fun to hear him, though.”

Santorum spoke in a small room at the Pitt Student Union. I brought along Lou Grieco, The Pitt News political correspondent, a moderate Democrat and a fair, good reporter. We listened as Santorum spoke with great enthusiasm and energy, and effectively answered a litany of questions on issues from Medicare to the Middle East. We were blown away. Lou whispered to me, “This guy is really impressive.”

Santorum was mobbed by students when he finished. I cut in to make a request: Would he write an op-ed piece for the newspaper? We published four times a week, with a circulation close to 50,000. “Absolutely!” he replied. “What would you like me to write about?” I told him that was up to him.

The next time I arrived at my office, an op-ed from Santorum was sitting on my keyboard, perfect length, perfect issue: the latest crazy, socialistic scheme from a member of Pittsburgh City Council—this one to strip the University of Pittsburgh of its tax-exempt status. Santorum tore the proposal to shreds.

In the interest of fairness, I called Congressman Walgren’s office to ask if he would like to write an op-ed for us. They never sent anything.

A few years later, Congressman Santorum managed to win the U.S. Senate, again challenging the conventional wisdom. On Tuesday, Senator Santorum was crushed in a landslide, 59-41%, by Bob Casey, Jr., after two memorable terms as the Senate’s leading proponent for the Culture of Life, a central reason why he was detested by liberals everywhere and by pro-choice working moms in Montgomery County.

Santorum’s dedication to the pro-life cause was typified by an unforgettable moment on the Senate floor one day in October 1999, when he confronted Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) on the issue of partial-birth abortion. What if, Santorum asked Boxer, almost facetiously, in the course of the partial-birth abortion, the baby’s foot was inside the mother but the rest of the baby was outside—“could that baby be killed?” He repeated the question from the vantage of different body parts, prompting Boxer—caught in the absurdity of her position—to snap, “I am not answering these questions.” Santorum did, however, get an answer from Boxer on this one: “[D]o you agree, once the child is born, separated from the mother, that that child is protected by the Constitution and cannot be killed?” Boxer replied: “I think when you bring your baby home, when your baby is born … the baby belongs to your family and has rights.”

This was Boxer’s standard for when life begins—the frightening contradictions of which do not bother pro-choicers, so long as she supports legalized abortion. Her thinking illustrates the jaw-dropping moral relativism that Rick Santorum fought against.

It will be said that the pro-life Santorum lost on Tuesday because the pro-life Casey overwhelmingly won moderates and independents, which is true, and because of opposition to the war in Iraq. The exit poll data on Iraq and terrorism generally is a bit confusing. What is clear, however, is that an unappreciated factor in Santorum’s crushing defeat was the failure of the 2004 “values voter.” Consider these telling statistics from CNN exit polling:

Those Pennsylvania voters who said that abortion should be legal voted for Casey over Santorum by a stunning margin of 77-23%, and those who believe that abortion should be “always legal” under any circumstance went for Casey 84-16%. Pro-choicers understand that Casey—who opposes abortion but is very weak on life issues—will represent their interests much better than Santorum. Also, those who attend church more than weekly (which were 12% of all Pennsylvania voters) went for Santorum 65-35%, whereas those who say they never attend church (16% of voters) cast ballots for Casey 78-22%. In the Pennsylvania Senate race, secularists and atheists trounced the devout.

Santorum is a victim of Pennsylvania’s leftward drift, pulled in that direction almost entirely by the southeast corner of the state. On Tuesday, more than one in 10 Pennsylvania voters was from Philadelphia, and they voted for Casey 85-15%. Philadelphia has made it extremely difficult for a conservative Republican to win the state—a recipe for failure for a principled conservative like Rick Santorum.

This is not, however, a recipe for failure for a principled conservative, like Rick Santorum, who runs for the White House.

Time will tell what the future holds for Rick Santorum, who is still only in his 40s. Until then, we should not dismiss this guy named Santorum.

Paul G. Kengor

Paul G. Kengor

Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. His other books include The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor and Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.

High resolution photos»

Donate to The Center for Vision and Values