Santorum’s Values

| January 5, 2012 | 0 Comments

Yesterday, I met with a very bright young British conservative who has come to the U.S. in a bit of a career shift.  I was a bit taken aback by his resume which was loaded with experience working on social justice projects.  He described his work with great enthusiasm and explained the various successes he’s had working on these projects for the Conservative government in the UK.  I told him that I was experiencing cognitive dissonance in our conversation, explaining that, on this side of the pond, assisting the poor is not a high priority for the conservatives.  He, having worked with the Heritage Foundation, acknowledged as much.  In fact, he surprised when he was told to avoid the term “social justice,” by American conservatives.  He had considered “social justice” kind of like “apple pie” for us.  Not so, in the American conservative movement.

He expressed some interest in connecting with a presidential campaign and asked for some advice.  I found myself steering him to Santorum.  I told him that it is likely that Santorum will flame out pretty quickly, but that he does have a commitment to the poor.  In fact, he actually had a record of some small accomplishment in this area during his congressional career.  That said, I also explained that I find many of his views on cultural issues abhorrent.   And, of course, this conversation took place a day after Santorum said he didn’t want to help black people by taking other people’s money.  Oh well. Nobody’s perfect.

Today, E.J. Dionne helped clarify the situation with a reasonably neutral description of Santorum’s religious views.   Like me, Dionne is a social justice Catholic, but he does try to understand the other strains within the Catholic Church.  Here’s a nice quote that captures some of the differences:

Santorum is a Catholic of a certain kind, and it’s the most important thing about him. He’s on one side of a long-standing debate in the church about how to build a decent society. Social-justice Catholics (and I’m one of those) represent an older American tradition. We agree with more conservative Catholics on the family as an essential social building block but see capitalism as in need of regulation and correction if it is to serve the common good and protect the family itself. Many of us — and here we depart from the church’s official teaching — see gay marriage not as undermining fidelity and commitment but as encouraging them.

By contrast, Santorum is what Republican strategist Steve Wagner years ago called a “social renewal” Catholic. These Catholics see opposition to abortion as a foundational matter and opposition to gay marriage as essential to “protecting” the family. They view the federal government less as a guarantor of social fairness than as “inflicting harm on the nation’s moral character,” as Wagner has put it.

Being a British conservative, I have to think that my visitor will also be horrified by Santorum’s views on things like gay marraige, comparing it, for instance, to beastiality.  But I had to acknowledge that, unlike most Republican candidates, he does accept some responsibility for addressing the problem of poverty in the U.S.


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Category: Politics, republicans

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