Politics, Economics, and the Law
It’s been a couple of weeks since I finished reading Rick Santorum’s book ‘It Takes a Family.’ I’ve let it simmer in my mind, perhaps a bit longer than I really had intended. In the meantime he’s managed to emerge as a somewhat legitimate contender in the race for the GOP Presidential nomination. I still don’t think he has any real chance of winning the Presidency, but he could seal the deal for Obama even more effectively than Romney would be able to.
Ultimately, I found ‘It Takes a Family’ to be an inconsistent treatise, espousing a worldview far more distrustful of the “common man” than Santorum would like us to believe. He opposed countless times the liberal elites, the “Village Elders” as he termed them, attempting to reshape American society into the form they desire. Yet his own ambitions differ only in the end-product, not in the desire to use government as a tool to mold people. He accuses the liberals of employing government as a hammer to break apart the traditional family and subvert traditional values, yet he would employ government as an enforcer of traditional values. As for the family, Santorum has settled upon a model he likes, and sees no reason anyone else should have much of a choice in the matter.
There are parts of the book I like. I like it when he talks about getting the government out of the economy (though I think he needs to polish up on his economic theory. I could give him a reading list). I like many parts of his education ideas. I agree with him that basic decency and respect towards others, and especially respect towards one’s parents are important. Not coincidentally, most of the areas of his book that I found myself nodding in agreement were areas which contained no policy ideas.
Yet every proclamation he makes that government has no business in a certain area ring a bit hollow when you consider all the areas that he does think government has business. Mr. Santorum, even if I agreed with you in those areas where you want to implement law and public policy (which I do not), how could any of us possibly trust you to refrain from meddling in other areas when you’ve addressed the issues you have with such zeal? If law and far-reaching policy are good for one facet of our lives, why should we expect you not to employ them in others at the first moment you decide that “something must be done”? To the hammer of government, does not everything become a nail?
The particulars of Santorum’s ideology are of great importance mainly to the groups he targets, and voters with similar prejudices. He is, for instance, unlikely to garner many votes from the LGBT bloc, even among fiscally conservative, Republican gays (they do exist, or so I hear). Feminists will have little nice to say about him. The teachers’ unions may not take kindly to his thoughts on public education. Ultimately though, these are just the peculiarities of his viewpoint. The reason his candidacy should be opposed is not because of the specific oppressions he would introduce, though they certainly warrant consideration, but because he is a statist. He decries the elitism of the liberals, but his own approach to governance seems different only in specific intention, not in the general ambition to impose a worldview. As a President he would attempt to rearrange government and set it to different tasks, but I see no reason to suspect we’d end up with any less of it overall. And even if you happened to agree with him completely, would you be comfortable leaving those tools of oppression to someone else?