OK, yes, I confess again. I’ve met Rick Santorum, but also only once, and also having nothing to do with politics — at least directly.
Back during the 1990s, when I was working at the US Department of Agriculture as administrator of the Federal crop insurance program, a problem came up involving Pennsylvania farmers. The farmers had suffered crop losses and they complained to their United States Senator, then Rick Santorum, about how the government programs were covering the loss. Santorum’s office, in turn, asked that I come to Capitol Hill on behalf of USDA and brief him on the situation.
The result was a small, informal, half-hour meeting with Senator Santorum in his office. What I remember most about it was how well it went. Santorum was friendly and good-natured, but also focused and effective. He had a bright young staff member specializing in agriculture programs and he let her take the lead on the technical points. He listened, he asked good questions, he let people speak, and in the end he pressed us very strongly — in a friendly way — on how to get the best deal for his Pennsylvania farmers. It was just what a Senator should do, and we ended up with a solution.
So what’s the problem? I always find it strange when political figures who come across as likeable and reasonable face-to-face on relatively small issues — like agriculture programs affecting, in this case, a few dozen farmers — can turn around and take positions on big things affecting large numbers of people that are simply mean-spirited and harmful.
Rick Santorum, whatever he says about limited government, has made a point of being the strongest voice in the current political contest for government intrusion into people’s’ private lives based on his religious beliefs — be it Terri Schiavo (chief sponsor of the bill for Washington to interfere in her case), recognition of gay relationships (opposes both gay marriage and civil unions), permitting abortions even in pressing personal circumstances, and so on down the list.
Rick Santorum’s own web page (click here to visit it) makes this unabashedly clear. It touts his ties to the most pointed cultural advocates in the country: “Sarah Palin praised Rick for his ‘consistency on protecting the sanctity of life.’ Mike Huckabee said he ‘adores Rick Santorum’s conviction.’ Glenn Beck called Rick Santorum the ‘next George Washington,’ and encouraged voters ‘to take a look at him.’ And Rush Limbaugh said it would be ‘great’ if Rick Santorum became President.” He makes no secret of fighting his campaign on behalf of religion. Again quoting his web page: “Rick understands that our freedom to practice our faith is not just under attack through the redefinition of marriage, but in nearly every facet of the popular culture.”
Rick Santorum is now the latest Republican candidate to enjoy a surge in public opinion polls for the Iowa Caucuses. (Click here for the latest from Real Clear Politics.) Think I’m exaggerating? Check out this video clip of Santorum discussing science and religion. Yes, he is a very nice person and appears to be very sincere. But is this who you want running public policy in the USA?