By Gail Collins
The New York Times
I know that this week you have been kicking yourself for not having paid more attention to Rick Santorum.
Me, too! How can we call ourselves informed citizens without a thorough grounding in the heart and mind of the man who almost won the Iowa caucuses? So, as a public service, I am concluding my job of reading books by all the Republican presidential hopefuls with the work of Rick Santorum.
So you won’t have to. Not that you were planning to anyway.
I say that with some confidence, since Santorum’s big book, “It Takes a Family,” is about as easy to acquire as an original Gutenberg Bible. It’s shocking, really. We’re up to our necks in Kindles and Nooks and iPads, yet it’s still impossible to order up the magnum opus of a former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, who was defeated in a re-election bid in 2006 by one of the widest margins in national history.
I want to say thank you to the Merrimack Public Library, without which this column could not have been written.
“It Takes a Family” clocks in at well over 400 pages. One of the things you first notice about Santorum on the campaign trail, besides his affinity for sweater vests, is that he does like to go on and on. The other night in New Hampshire, he was introduced by a woman who told the audience about a house party she gave for him last summer in which her guest of honor was still talking at 11 o’clock. “I was ready to go to bed, but Sen. Santorum stayed,” she said. “He stayed and stayed.” He’s a little like a right-wing, avenging-angel version of Bill Clinton. You just set him down, and he’ll run on for hours.
Santorum’s book is only about his political vision, so we don’t get much personal background. This is a shame, because he grew up at a veterans’ hospital where his parents were on staff, and I would have liked to have heard about his feelings on being raised in the belly of a government-run health care system.
Instead, it’s mainly a retort to “It Takes a Village” by Hillary Clinton, whose claim that it takes more than just the nuclear family to rear a child has always raised Republican hackles. Santorum’s hackles, however, have levitated to the stratosphere.
The village, he says, is terrible. It’s run by “the Bigs” – the media, education establishment and federal government, through their minions, the liberal village elders. The elders just want to boss the peasants around, and they hate the whole idea of old-fashioned nuclear families “because of what it instills in children and society – traditional values.”
You may notice a tinge of paranoia in Santorum’s thinking.
“Thanks to rogue decisions by liberal judges, liberal feminists and the other village elders have let the horses of No Fault-Freedom run wild and have boarded up the proverbial barn door to ensure that traditional morals are locked out,” Santorum explains. Prose-wise, he makes Mitt Romney sound like F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Santorum looks at Clinton’s village and sees something like the evil mountain in “Lord of the Rings.” Everything the liberal elders do is for the worst possible motives. They don’t want to legalize same-sex marriage so that gay couples can have the right to commit themselves permanently and legally to each other. The liberals/gays don’t believe in lifelong commitments! They only believe in “a kind of cohabitation,” where you can pack up and leave any time you like, and now they’re trying to impose that on the poor, monogamous peasants.
To be fair, all of Santorum’s village elders aren’t bad. At one point, he calls for social conservatives to join hands with “our entertainment ‘nobility”’ – the movie stars and sports heroes – to strip the sleaze from popular culture. He realizes his readers may accuse him of consorting with the enemy. (“Am I now suggesting appeasement, rapprochement, or perhaps even partial surrender?”) Of course not! Unlike the other top dogs, he explains, the entertainment celebrities are not really liberal, but only pretending to be “because that’s the cultural norm created by the Bigs in their industry.”
This is pretty much the only time that anybody connected to business is accused of being a Big.
Since “It Takes a Family” was published in 2005, Barack Obama doesn’t make an appearance. But during his current campaign, Santorum has made it clear that he thinks Obama is the worst village elder of all, who is feeding us “the narcotic of government dependency” so that Americans will be helpless and he’ll be more powerful and important.
Do you think, people, that it might be possible to criticize the president without insisting that everything he does is propelled by sinister motives and bad character? OK, maybe not this year.
By Gail Collins