Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Santorum, again

Dude's been all over the place in the past couple of weeks as he gears up for what by all accounts will be a tough 2006 re-election campaign.


He's rethinking his support for the death penalty:

"I still support the death penalty, but what I'm suggesting is, number one, we have to be more cautious," Santorum said Tuesday, adding that its use should be limited to the "most horrific and heinous of crimes."


He said his examination "has narrowed its application, but it's not saying that I fundamentally believe the death penalty is wrong."


In an interview published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Tuesday, Santorum said: "I agree with the pope that in the civilized world ... the application of the death penalty should be limited. I would definitely agree with that. I would certainly suggest there probably should be some further limits on what we use it for."


The Pope, for the record, doesn't believe the death penalty should be limited. He thinks it should be banned. But isn't it nice that the senator has let his religious convictions lead him in a new direction?


But he's not getting too far from his roots:

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has organized a course for members of Congress on Catholic doctrine that is being taught from his Senate hideaway in the Capitol.


The senator’s move comes at a time when members of both major political parties are talking more freely about their faith.


Santorum has brought in the Rev. Michael Sliney, a local priest, to oversee the course, which seeks to broaden the members’ understanding of Catholicism during the weeks leading up to Easter.



The list of attendees looks like a wingnut roll call:

Santorum invited six House members and 10 senators to the event, all of whom are Catholic Republicans. Among those invited is Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a former Protestant whom Santorum helped convert. Other Republican senators invited are Mel Martinez (Fla.), John Ensign (Nev.), Mike DeWine (Ohio), George Voinovich (Ohio), Susan Collins (Maine), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Pete Domenici (N.M.), John Sununu (N.H.) and Jim Bunning (Ky.).

What's going on, of course, is that Santorum wants to plump up his religious image to maintain support in Pennsylvania's traditionally devout--and very conservative--"T", the areas of the state outside of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. If Robert Casey, Jr. wins the Democratic nomination, Santorum will have an extremely difficult battle on his hands, since Casey is himself a pro-life Catholic. At the same time, this is going to be very tight race no matter who Santorum faces, so he can't go too far out on the rabid right-wing limb. He can't simply piss away the cities, in other words.


So he's got a delicate balancing act to perform in the next year-and-a-half. Thankfully, this is Rick Santorum we're talking about, a man whose right knuckles are scarred from dragging on the ground. A recent interview in Christianity Today gives some good examples of how difficult Santorum finds the tightrope. (CT, for those of you who don't know it, is the evangelical "magazine of record." Granting them an interview is sure to get Santorum a sympathetic hearing that will be read in the T.)


He starts off sounding more or less reasonable when asked about facing Casey:

As the No. 3 Republican in the Senate right now, the Democrats seem to have you in their sights, even to the point of tapping Bob Casey Jr., who's another pro-lifer, to run against you. As someone with a strong pro-life voting record, how do you view his candidacy?


You know, every candidate you run against has strengths and weaknesses. I don't know if he will ultimately be the person who runs against me, but if he is, I'm sure he'll have some positive attributes and negative ones from the standpoint of the voters of Pennsylvania, just as I will. It's a matter, from my perspective, of looking at, more importantly, what I've done [as senator] over the last 10 years—at that point, 12 years—to serve the people of Pennsylvania, and what my plans are in continuing to serve them over the next 6. That really is the more relevant issue. People end up voting in these kinds of elections, high-profile elections like Senate races, based on: 1) does the incumbent deserve to be re-elected, and then 2) if that's not the case, is there a reasonable alternative? My first obligation is just to let the public know what I've been doing and how effective I've been for the commonwealth, and what my plans are for the future.


He's right; as someone reminded me in Stirling Newberry's thread this morning, elections against an incumbent are referendums on that incumbent. Whether or not he can convince Pennsylvanians that he's been effective for them is another question, of course. But whatever. Who ever expects pols to to highlight his weaknesses?


From here, though, it's a downhill slide. First there's the follow-up to the question above:

Do you think Mr. Casey's candidacy would take abortion off the table in your campaign?


I don't think you can run a campaign without having those issues addressed. Our positions may be similar, [but] my understanding is he's never really taken much of a position on the issue beyond a questionnaire or two. But when you're running for a state auditor and state treasurer, those are not necessarily positions where this becomes an important issue.


There may be nuance differences between the two of us; I don't know. But in either case, I think I have a record. He does not. Certainly [my] record has been one of leadership and a variety of different important issues that have actually been issues that have brought people together on the issue of abortion. That's an important thing. I'm known as a pro-life leader on issues where we've gotten people from the other side of this issue to join us.


It's a decent shot at Casey in the first paragraph, stressing the difference in their resumes. But that second one will surely not win him any votes in the critical--and pro-choice--Philly suburbs.


The slide accelerates from there:

In 2003, you spoke out against the Supreme Court's Lawrence decision [overturning state anti-sodomy laws].


Yes, I did. And I also turned out to be right.


Do you feel vindicated?


Well, I was right. The bottom line in what I said was, this is going to lead to a whole lot of consequences. I had to assume the justices understood what they were doing. And of course, the decision was cited in the Goodrich decision in Massachusetts [in which the state Supreme Court overturned the state's ban on homosexual marriage]. I knew that's what courts would say. So this is, again, the problem with courts usurping democratic powers, powers that were clearly given to the legislatures and to the Congress. This judicial activism is a very, very scary thing for the future of this country.


He wasn't right: he predicted a short march from Lawrence to legalized polygamy and bestiality. And any idiot knew that the case would be cited in the Massachusetts decision. So much for Santorum's prescience.


More interesting is his slam at the courts, a refrain we're hearing more and more these days. Republicans can't run against Congress or Bill Clinton anymore, so who else can they blame? Well, okay, liberal pastors, but we're somewhere down the list, after Sponge Bob and Fox, uh, Sony, uh, those damn Hollywood smut peddlers!


In any case, so it goes. Read the whole article, especially the end, when Santorum begins to try on the "compassionate conservative" mantle. He has some very interesting things to say about What's the Matter With Kansas? Memo to Chuck P.'s staff: find this article and hang every last smug, prevaricating, sanctimonious word around Sen. "Man on Dog's" neck. Dude is in trouble, and he knows it.


You can almost smell the flop sweat rising off the newsprint.

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