There’s no question that Republicans need to broaden the party base. Libertarians and the Party establishment have offered their solutions; in Blue Collar Conservatives, Rick Santorum takes his turn at bat.
Santorum says that the reason why Mitt Romney failed to defeat Barack Obama was his failure to connect with working Americans. Santorum takes Romney to task for his infamous “47% remark” pointing out that many of the 47% who don’t pay taxes and are receiving benefits from the government are veterans and Social Security retirees.
However, the book is not an attempt to clobber Romney. Santorum takes pains to praise Romney’s character, his work on behalf of poor people, and his personal philanthropy. He contrasts his philanthropy to Joe Biden’s legendary stinginess. Santorum is clear that while Romney’s campaign failed to connect with working people, he made the point that is problem is not unique toRomney. It is endemic of the Republican Party when they tailor their message to job creators while ignoring job holders.
Santorum is not opposed to entrepreneurs but makes the point that even if the GOP won the vote every business owner in the country it would still lose the election. Santorum believes that the key to GOP success is addressing the concerns of people in rural and former industrial areas that have been left behind by globalization and the great recession. He personifies this type of voter in an Illinois family called the Harrisons, a composite of various people he met on the campaign trail.
Santorum’s solutions are a good mix of conservative ideas. There aren’t many extremely original ones, but some very powerful policy solutions. He focuses on fracking as a way to revive economically struggling areas and create blue collar jobs, he calls for education that is locally run and focuses on local needs, and is bold enough to say that all education shouldn’t be focused on getting students ready for college as college isn’t for everyone with 70% of Americans not having a Bachelor’s Degree.
Santorum will certainly rankle some libertarians as he declares his support for social safety net programs (and many constitutionalists will be bothered by his use of “general welfare” in the preamble to justify welfare spending), but with work requirements for able bodied workers. He takes strong issue with President Obama’s shredding of work requirements for welfare.
More than anything else, Santorum’s b0ok invariably focuses on the family, not as a matter of a self-righteous religious crusade (as the left and many libertarians would have it) but as a necessity for a strong economy. He uses statistics to show the need for marriage and stable families is essential to the nation’s future. Santorum is not foolish or naïve enough to believe government can fix the decline of the family. He suggests some common sense changes that would help such as eliminating the marriage penalty.
The book remains focused on one issue at a time until the second to last chapter where he addresses a plethora of issues because a potential Presidential candidate should address them (whether they go with the theme of the book or not.) Perhaps the most interesting tidbit is Santorum’s praise for the Fair Tax, albeit he stops short of endorsing the plan to scrap the income and payroll taxes and replace it with a 23% Sales Tax. Santorum does however believe it is a good place to start a conversation about tax reform.
This book shows how little daylight there is between Santorum, the winner of the 2012 Iowa Caucus, and Mike Huckabee, the winner of the 2008 Caucus. The one potential issue is Common Core where Huckabee will have some ‘splainin’ to do on an issue that really concerns grassroots voters. Still, the worst thing that could happen for social conservatives is for both candidates to run. However, Santorum doesn’t commit to running in Blue Collar Conservatives anymore Huckabee did in A Simple Government back in 2009.
Overall, Blue Collar Conservatives is a good and worthwhile read even if it’s not a prelude to its author’s next presidential campaign. It doesn’t call for conservatives to abandon principles to win elections but rather to apply conservative principles to the problems and challenges of working Americans in order to make a better country and broaden the Republican base.
People like Santorum’s Harrisons seem a far likelier match for the GOP when compared to the idea, advanced by many libertarians, that a more socially liberal GOP would attract enough pot smoking libertines to win elections. Santorum also makes a good case, that by helping families like the Harrisons, we’ll help strengthen America and ensure our freedom: which should be the goal of politics anyway.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0