Contrarian: Springtime for Santorum


Last year, when Senator Rick Santorum published his anti-liberal, anti-feminist, anti-gay manifesto It Takes a Family, a lot of political pundits were stunned by his bad timing. Most officeholders try to broaden their popular appeal in the months before kicking off a reelection campaign. Santorum did the opposite. He dished out a heaping helping of right-wing red meat, blaming our civilization’s decay on working moms, divorced parents, and supporters of gay rights and cultural diversity. In short, the book attacked three-quarters of Pennsylvania — not a smart move for someone due to face the voters in 2006.

Few considered that Rick Santorum probably wrote It Takes a Family for the same reason most people write books. Red meat sells, and the man needs money. On a Senate salary of $165,200, Santorum supports a stay-at-home wife and six children under age 16. The entire brood is homeschooled at the couple’s four-acre, $750,000 estate in Virginia. Without Rick’s royalties, Karen Santorum is clipping coupons, buying generic and wearing Kmart.

Since his book title was an obvious rebuke to Hillary Clinton’s It Takes a Village, many assumed that Santorum was also trying to set the stage for a presidential run in 2008. But he recently ruled that out, so only one explanation remains for why Santorum seems hell-bent on alienating every moderate voter in the state: He’s done with elective office. There are six college tuitions in the Santorum family’s future, and it’s time for Daddy to cash his chips on K Street, lobbyists’ row in D.C. This year’s reelection campaign is just his latest attempt to buff up his bankable bone fides as America’s foremost right-wing nut. Already down by double digits in the polls, Rick Santorum is throwing this election.

It’s not just Santorum’s silly rhetoric — that the “right to privacy” may lead to court-approved infanticide, that career women have been brainwashed by radical feminism, that unmarried couples are “wrong” to live together. His actions speak even louder. In recent years the Santorums have been caught supplementing their income with methods popular among desperate low-lifes: They cheated the government, and they filed a back-related medical malpractice claim.

Two years ago, while our rugged individualist Senator was penning a book that extolled the value of homeschooling, his family was getting free online curriculum services worth about $30,000 a year, courtesy of the small school district in Western Pennsylvania where the Santorums claim residency. When the Penn Hills school board noticed that the putative Santorum homestead outside Pittsburgh has only three bedrooms and was rented out to someone else, it demanded a refund. A legal technicality over filing dates sank the school board’s case, and Santorum claimed, absurdly, that he was being persecuted by liberal Penn Hills Democrats. He was right about one thing, though. It takes a family to rip off a village.

Even more strangely for Senator Self-Reliant, in 1999 Karen Santorum filed a $500,000 medical malpractice claim — the exact kind of claim Senator Santorum has long fought to outlaw in Washington. In testimony redolent of bleeding-heart-liberal whining, Santorum told a court his wife’s chiropractor-induced back troubles caused her to gain weight and damaged her self-esteem. The jury of softies, touched by the Senator’s tales of having to drag the family laundry upstairs for his afflicted spouse, awarded Karen Santorum $350,000. An indignant judge cut the award in half, but the fact remains that the Santorums scored tens of thousands of dollars on Karen’s achy back, while the Senator demands legal caps on pain-and-suffering awards to amputees and quadriplegics.

It’s no wonder that most Pennsylvania voters now say they’re done with this self-righteous, hypocritical prig. But Republicans in D.C. are in a panic about losing this Senate seat to the Democrats. They would have much preferred that Santorum go quietly and hand off the spot to some other cold-blooded stooge on the make, just like Bucks County congressman Jim Greenwood did in 2004, when he skipped for a cushy job as a high-priced shill for the bio-tech industry.

That’s not Rick Santorum’s style, though. No, the only way for Rick to raise his cachet on K Street is to go down in flames at the hands of the evil culture he strives to cure. It’s like the movie The Producers. He can only profit if his current production is a ringing flop. His reelection campaign needs to ensure that the Senator ends up as a bloodied martyr to the Left.

So watch Santorum stick with his crackpot minority base on every divisive issue this year: gay rights, school prayer, stem cell research and intelligent design. If he gets it right, the Santorum 2006 campaign will end with his political crucifixion on November 7th, followed by a glorious resurrection, borne aloft on Gucci loafers, as a multimillionaire lobbyist for the radical religious right. Rick Santorum Superstar.

Santorum’s Second Coming will no doubt produce another book, a lucrative speaking tour of Midwestern mega-churches, and some new, unimaginably vile public crusade to heal our nation’s wounds by dividing it along the lines of race, region and religion. Presto! College tuitions for six, a bigger house in a better Virginia suburb, and maybe even some hired help to lug around all that laundry.

Sadly for Rick, it may not work out this way. Right now, the biggest threat to the Santorum family’s dream life is the palpable ineptitude of the Senator’s all-but-certain Democratic opponent. Bob Casey Jr. is such a stiff, no-talent campaigner that Santorum can’t possibly come up with enough freakishly extreme positions to safely avoid the danger of winning.

Try as he might to toss the game, Rick Santorum still may need to make a victory speech in November, while moaning to himself like Max Bialystock, “Where did I go right?”

Be respectful of our online community and contribute to an engaging conversation. We reserve the right to ban impersonators and remove comments that contain personal attacks, threats, or profanity, or are flat-out offensive. By posting here, you are permitting Philadelphia magazine and Metro Corp. to edit and republish your comment in all media.