Gordon Campbell on Rick Santorum

Column – Gordon Campbell

Well, Mitt Romney won narrowly yesterday in Michigan, the family fiefdom that goes back all the way to when his father George ran General Motors and used that platform to became governor of the state.


Gordon Campbell on Rick Santorum and the Republican primary race

Well, Mitt Romney won narrowly yesterday in Michigan, the family fiefdom that goes back all the way to when his father George ran General Motors and used that platform to became governor of the state.

Briefly, George Romney was a presidential candidate in the 1960s until he famously blew his chances when he said in an interview that yes, he had formerly supported the Vietnam War, but only because he had been “brainwashed” by the US military on a visit to Saigon. This confessed susceptibility to brainwashing did nothing to make Dad look like presidential material. At the time, one pundit summed up his fitness for the nation’s highest office by saying that “Watching George Romney run for the presidency is like watching a duck try to make love to a football”.

Mitt is not doing much better at convincing the Republican Party that he is presidential timber. To get within five points of losing in Michigan is yet another example of how deeply riven the Republican Party really is, and how the only way left for Romney to unite the party is the one Scoop suggested a few weeks ago – whereby Romney caves in before or at the Republican Convention and embraces Rick Santorum onstage as his running mate. This could then be marketed as a potent wedding of Romney’s wealth and privilege, and Santorum perceived working class Catholic conservatism.

In fact, it is an alliance of privilege and gender bigotry. Santorum has now been outed as an off-the-graph extremist on social issues – contraception to him, is always a sin, and abortion ditto even in cases involving rape and incest. Ricky also can’t read. As Joan Walsh pointed out on Salon last week, Santorum completely misunderstood JFK’s famous speech about the separation of the church and the state.

Kennedy was saying that no one should be barred from participation in public life because of their religion – ie, no one faith should be allowed to lord it over any other – but Santorum read it as if JFK was saying that no religious person should be allowed to participate in public life at all. As Walsh points out, JFK was arguing that religion and secularism should co-exist as equals, and no one should be able to use their own religion to oppress say, the Catholicism of Rick Santorum… But Santorum seems to be an idiot, so no wonder. The Walsh article, which is headlined “Santorum’s JFK Story Makes Me Want To Throw Up” is well worth checking out, via the link above.

Santorum is also something of a hypocrite. The man may be a social conservative, but he is no fiscal conservative. As an excellent newsbreak originally in the Miami Herald (now offline but the gist is contained here) shows clearly, former Senator Rick Santorum voted for many, many of the earmarks and corporate handouts that Candidate Santorum now decries. The original Miami Herald story gave chapter and verse :

Santorum’s fiscal record is certainly more conservative than that of most lawmakers, and he’s consistently supported major tax-cut legislation. But his record has some significant blemishes from the purist-conservative perspective.

Santorum most angered conservatives with his backing of the expensive 2003 Medicare prescription-drug program, which is expected to cost about $68 billion this year alone. Santorum told CNN last year that his Medicare vote was a mistake, because the program wasn’t paid for.

His vote for the 2005 highway bill – a $284 billion measure that was loaded with earmarks, including the infamous Alaska “Bridge to Nowhere” – also outraged conservatives. Santorum has been a consistent supporter of earmarks, the local projects that members of Congress insert into legislation. Taxpayers for Common Sense, which tracks earmarks, estimates that in Santorum’s 12 years in the Senate and four in the House of Representatives, he got at least $1 billion in projects. In addition, Santorum voted many times to raise the federal debt ceiling and for Amtrak funds.

Amusingly, both Romney and Santorum campaigned in Michigan, which is Ground Zero of the US auto industry, despite both of them having voted against President Obama’s bailout of the auto industry – which was the only thing that saved the state’s jobs experiencing something close to Armageddon a couple of years ago. But that’s ‘working class’ hero Rick Santorum for you. Just don’t expect him to go to bat for your job.

Still, we can expect that if and when the Republicans manage to shift their fire from each other onto Obama and the rampant socialism he has imposed on the American people, you can bet that the contest will be depicted as one between working class billionaire Mitt Romney and that effete snob in the White House who… well, we all know how being the Afro-American child of a solo mother in Chicago (with an absent Kenyan father) is just one big gravy train of privilege to Harvard and the White House.

Actually, Obama is currently doing OK with the working class vote. As Ari Berman points out this week in this fascinating article in the Nation those fabled working class “Reagan Democrats” of yore are not exactly lining up behind Romney, Santorum and the Republican Party anymore:

It’s become conventional wisdom to suggest that Rick Santorum, with his blue-collar background in Pennsylvania, will run strongly among [working class] voters. Yet these national poll numbers haven’t translated to an advantage for Santorum in Michigan or the other states that have voted so far….“Santorum’s performance doesn’t show much more variation by income,” says political columnist Ron] Brownstein. “In Iowa, his share of the vote rose steadily with income.”

…..Nor will Santorum’s outspoken social conservatism necessarily help him win Reagan Democrats. “I don’t think they are particularly socially conservative, if you are referring to abortion and family issues raised by Santorum,” the polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner says. “They are fairly libertarian and anti-government intrusiveness—and are much more concerned with guns than the pill. They were/are strongly NRA in our research.”

In Michigan] Obama leads Romney by eighteen points in the latest NBC/Marist poll and Santorum by twenty-six…Obama now has a 51 percent approval rating in the state. Fifty-five percent of Michiganders say the worst of the economic crisis is behind them, while 63 percent believe the auto bailout—which Obama supported and Romney/Santorum did not—was a good idea (GOP primary voters narrowly oppose it).

Obama’s numbers among working-class whites help explain why his re-election prospects are improving. In 2008, Obama lost the white working-class vote by eighteen points. Democrats lost that group by thirty points in 2010, which many pundits predicted would be replicated in 2012. [In fact] Obama has a 43 percent approval rating among working class whites in the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll, higher than it was in 2008. At the beginning of 2011, Romney led Obama by around twenty points among blue-collar whites in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin, according to internal polling by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner. At the end of last month, Romney led the president by only three among such voters in these Rust Belt battleground states, a seventeen-point swing over the past year.

So Romney will have his work cut out as the US economy steadily improves this year, to win a sizeable voting bloc he used to be able to take as a virtual given. Much the same good polling news for the Democrats among working class voters can be found in yesterday’s Washington Post:

Romney’s favorability rating nationally is at just 37 percent among conservative Republicans and independents with incomes of under $50,000, versus 40 percent of them who view him unfavorably. Among non-college whites across the board, Romney’s favorability rating is also at 37 percent. Obama’s favorability among these voters is the same; yet a competitive Republican is supposed to have a very significant advantage over a Democrat [among non-college whites, as part of the ‘Reagan Democrat’ factor] in presidential elections.

It could be about to get even worse for the Republicans. The Culture Wars are due to blow up in the House again next week over a contraception vote – sparked by a Republican-sponsored amendment to restrict employer obligations to provide healthcare access, including contraception, to their employees.

The battle lines for this fight may well line up nicely for the Democrats. The related publicity will do considerable damage to the Romney/Santorum stance on women’s reproductive issues, and among independent voters – who tend to be conservative on the economy, but liberal on these kind of social issues. Meaning: if it has been difficult for the Republicans so far this year, it is only getting to get a whole lot more difficult for them, as the year drags on.

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