National Journal


How Would Rick Santorum’s Culture War Play in the Fall?

by Naureen Khan

Updated: February 16, 2012 | 10:28 a.m.
February 15, 2012 | 5:09 p.m.

AP Photo/Will Kincaid

Republican presidential candidate, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum works the crowd at at campaign event.

Presidential candidate Rick Santorum has never shied away from the label of culture warrior. The former senator from Pennsylvania has touted the fact that he’s the only candidate in the GOP primary race unafraid to take on sensitive social issues. Although that posture has won over evangelical voters and other socially conservative elements in the Republican base, it remains an open question whether some of Santorum’s past statements could turn off swing voters in a general election. His 2005 book, It Takes a Family, a 436-page treatise on his views on conservative social policy, provides some clues to the positions that could find their way into the opposition’s advertising.

1)  Marriage is for making babies.

Santorum rails against the idea that marriage is solely about “publicly honoring a romantic attachment.” Instead, he believes that marriage between a man and a woman should be given special privileges in society specifically because it is the union that produces children. In a world where same-sex marriage is legalized, Santorum imagines plummeting fertility rates, a la Europe. “What happens to a society that disconnects marriage from babies?” Santorum asks. “We can expect to get even more children raised outside of marriage. And we will also have fewer children, period.”

There are 99.6 million unmarried Americans over the age of 18 and many are choosing to delay marriage as a lifestyle choice.

2)  Put the brakes on divorce.

Santorum is a critic of the country’s current divorce policy—something you don’t hear often even from conservative candidates. “Divorce is simply far too easy to get in this country, especially when children are involved,” he writes. “I believe that our laws have an educational value: The marriage contract should be at least as difficult to break as a contract for chicken feed.” Santorum recommends “a braking period” for couples who have children, including a mandatory waiting period and counseling.

3)  Same-sex marriage opens the door to polygamy.

In his book, Santorum defends his comments in a much-debated  Associated Press interview in which he said he had reservations about the Supreme Court decision that struck down sodomy laws across the country. “If consent is now the only standard to have your sexual behavior protected by the Constitution, then how can the court prohibit any consensual sexual behavior among two, three, or more people?” he writes. “The answer is logically, judicially, that you cannot—for other than arbitrary reasons.” Linking gay marriage to polygamy is likely not to play well with independents, 59 percent of whom believe same-sex marriage should be legalized, according to the Gallup organization’s tracking of the issue.

4)  Abortion is like slavery.

Santorum uses some interesting language to explain the philosophy behind his opposition to abortion. “Abortion puts the liberty and happiness rights of the mother before the life rights of her child,” he writes. “This was tried once before in America, when the liberty and happiness rights of the slaveholder were put over the life and liberty rights of the slave. But unlike abortion today, in most states even the slaveholder did not have the unlimited right to kill his slave.” For a politician who has waded into racially sensitive waters in the past, the comments may raise even more eyebrows.

5)  Pro-abortion-rights conspiracy?

Santorum sees evidence of a pro-abortion-rights agenda being rammed down Americans’ throats. “The popular culture promotes sexual promiscuity with no consequences. The big media speaks only in supportive tones of abortion as a fundamental right in American life,” he writes. “Big businesses and big cities pay for abortions in their health care plans, and big labor negotiates for abortion coverage in their contracts as well.” Perhaps his boldest claim, however, is that “some colleges go so far as to pressure young women to have abortions.”

6)  Liberal welfare policy hurt African Americans.

In a chapter on wealth and race, Santorum laments the loss of the “thriving black entrepreneurship class” that he says existed in the 20th century. The root of the problem? “[W]hat really changed the economic terrain for African-Americans was something else: the arrival of liberal welfare policies, the liberal cultural of victimhood, and poorly-thought-out urban renewal.” Although overdependence on government is a frequent theme for Santorum on the campaign trail, it may be an awkward argument to make to black voters against the nation’s first African-American president.

7)  Darwin was wrong.

Santorum writes that criticisms of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection and evolution have been around from the beginning and have only gotten stronger in recent years. That may not hurt him much in a fall campaign. As of February 2009, only 39 percent of Americans believed in evolution, while 36 percent said they had no opinion. But he doesn’t stop there. He has fighting words for how the theory “has been used as a club against the beliefs of traditional theists.”

8)  ‘Radical feminists’ are destroying the American family.

“Radical feminists” value the professional accomplishments of women more than the success of raising a family, Santorum argues. “What happened in America so that mothers and fathers who leave their children in the care of someone else—or worse yet, home alone after school between three and six in the afternoon—find themselves more affirmed by society?” In a nation where many families increasingly rely on dual incomes and outside child care, such comments may seem out of touch.

9)  Religion is under assault.

Santorum sees a malicious effort by liberals—derisively referred to as “the village elders” throughout the book—to stifle religious institutions. Although many Republicans have made the same argument in recent days, Santorum uses provocative  language to describe why liberals aim to “eliminate or co-opt” faith organizations. “Religious institutions stand between them and the individuals they seek to fashion in their own image,” Santorum writes. “In other words, they are a threat to the rule of the village elders.”

10)  A call to arms.

Santorum is adamant about the importance of protecting American values. In one passage, he connects it to the battles then still being waged in Iraq and Afghanistan. “The duty of securing America’s liberty from the external threat of Islamic fascism has fallen to the courageous men and women to the Middle East,” he writes. “But the duty of maintaining our American liberty from the threat of depleting moral capital and the artillery of time is up to us all.” Given the state of the economy, depleted capital of another type may be uppermost in voters’ minds as they go to the polls in November.