You Mean Rick Santorum is Not a Libertarian? Burn Him at the Stake!

I’m going to need to recant my placement of RedState at the top of my favorite blogs list.  Now that Rick Santorum has emerged as probably the leading not-Mitt candidate in the GOP presidential sweepstakes, they, along with a few other conservative websites, have gone absolutely bananas over the prospect of Santorum becoming a leading candidate.  Sure, they all hate Mitt Romney, but can we truly tolerate a candidate who says extremist things like this:

This whole idea of personal autonomy, well I don’t think most conservatives hold that point of view. Some do. They have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do, government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulations low, that we shouldn’t get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn’t get involved in cultural issues. You know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world and I think most conservatives understand that individuals can’t go it alone.

My goodness.  I can just see Santorum delivering these remarks on a balcony with a hammer and sickle proudly displayed behind him.  Did he also poound a shoe on the podium, because the man must surely be just shy of being an out and out Communist.

Jeff Emanuel has unearthed two more shocking quotes that reveal Santorum’s obvious Stalinist tendencies.

What was my vision? I came to the uncomfortable realization that conservatives were not only reluctant to spend government dollars on the poor, they hadn’t even thought much about what might work better. I often describe my conservative colleagues during this time as simply ‘cheap liberals.’ My own economically modest personal background and my faith had taught me to care for those who are less fortunate, but I too had not yet given much thought to the proper role of government in this mission.

I mean is there any difference between this and Mao?  Frightening words – compassion for the poor?  Don’t you remember those lines in the Constitution about how we’re supposed to treat the poor?  “Are there no prisons?  Are there no union workhouses?”  It’s in there, right next to the stuff about the right to privacy.

That is nothing compared to these lines which gently echo The Communist Manifesto:

I suspect some will dismiss my ideas as just an extended version of ‘compassionate conservatism.’ Some will reject what I have said as a kind of ‘Big Government Conservatism.’ Some will say that what I’ve tried to argue isn’t conservatism at all. But I believe what I’ve been presenting is the genuine conservatism our Founders envisioned. One that fosters the opportunity for all Americans to live as we are called to live, in selfless families that contribute to the general welfare, the common good.

Opportunity for all Americans?  Selfless families?  Common good?  What, is Rick Santorum advocating for the American version of the Great Leap Forward?

Lucky for us, Jeff Emmanuel is here to shine a light on Santorum’s dastardly plot to make us all slaves to the great leviathan.

This is wrong on several levels. While there is absolutely a role for government in creating and maintaining a social safety net (Medicare, Medicaid, welfare, etc.) for the population that cannot take care of itself (whether that should take place at the federal, state, or local level, and in what measure each, is a different discussion), Santorum’s instinct appears to be to use government to expand that safety net to all who may be in need or want of charity.

So, government should create a safety net, but Santorum is wicked because he wants to actually provide a safety net to those who need it.  Yes, that is cunning plot on the level of fluoridation.

Further, he accuses conservatives in Congress who disagree with a significantly expanded role of government in enforcing redistributive charity and welfare of being “cheap liberals” who haven’t “though [enough] about” the issue of “the poor” to recognize that making decisions about charity is clearly government’s job to do.

Hey, are we in Nebraska, because that’s a really big strawman.  But not as big as this one:

I’m not criticizing Rick Santorum for being concerned about his fellow man. However, instinctively turning to government to cure all that ails our society and individuals within it – and calling that a “conservative” instinct – shows a lack of understanding about the role of government itself within our society

Yes, from these three pull quotes it’s patently obvious that Santorum wants to turn to the government “to cure all that ails our society.”  Arguing that there is some role for government to provide a safety net to the poor, arguing against hyper-individualism, and defending the role of the family in shaping our society are all clear signs that Santorum is a utopian statist.

I don’t agree with every single word in the three highlighted passages, but there is absolutely nothing in them to justify the caricature of Santorum that has emerged on certain right-wing blogs.  Santorum is not a libertarian, and that’s a good thing, because libertarianism and conservatism are not the same thing.  Santorum understands the nexus between social and fiscal conservatism, and gets that without strong families we can’t have a flourishing economy.  What Santorum rejects is the atomization of society.  We can’t go it alone.  Communities are the backbone of society, and the modern state has displaced these communities.  When libertarians disparage these local institutions, it is they who wind up promoting the very kind of big government welfare state that they supposedly oppose.

Edmund Burke wrote about the little platoons in the Reflections on the Revolution in France.

To be attached to the subdivision, to love the little platoon we belong to in society, is the first principle (the germ as it were) of public affections. It is the first link in the series by which we proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind.

This is precisely what Santorum is getting at when he speaks of families contributing to the general welfare.  This is not big government statism.  It’s in fact the very opposite of it.

Santorum seems to me to be a Hamiltonian in his attitude towards government.  Hamilton did want an energetic, efficient government.   But he also wanted the federal government to be a government involved in relatively few affairs.  A government that dipped its hands into too many different agendas would wind up being a less efficient government.  And why did Hamilton want government to be efficient?  To defend individual rights.  This is where Santorum is coming from.  Unlike leftists and even some right-wingers, Santorum doesn’t want government to grow so that it can simply make everybody happy.  His “big government” conservatism, if you want to call it that, is one meant to protect and defend the natural law.  There can be some disagreement about how government should go about accomplishing this, and I think that at times Santorum can be over-zelous.  The point is that this is not some utopian, statist vision being promulgated here.

This anti-Santorum sentiment is a reflection of a couple of things.  On a very raw level it represents resentment of a candidate getting further than one’s preferred candidate.  Red State, by and large, is a very pro-Perry site.  Ace of Spades, another blog that has all but called Santorum a socialist, is another pro-Perry blog.  As you all know I am a Perry supporter myself.  But I never put all of my eggs in this one basket the way that others have.  I didn’t join in the chorus of those who wanted to transform Newt Gingrich into a progressive socialist (though I do share some of the concerns about his philosophy, and have criticized them).  I am sure not going to join in the Santorum bashing in some foolish attempt to raise the stature of a candidate who is, let’s face it, going nowhere.

More importantly, this represents the division within conservatism between traditionalists and the more libertarian-inclined.  I had started writing a post about how this also represents a fundamental difference between conservatives who have children and those that don’t.  While I think there’s something to that as well, I don’t want to overly complicate matters.  In the end, as I’ve said before, there are those on the right who take the work of Any Rand seriously and those that don’t.  Those that are either Randians or who are at least sympathetic to her therefore view Santorum as some wild-eyed religious freak who is no better than the other non-productive members of society.  They don’t really understand his talk about communities and his disdain for hyper-individualism.  They interpret this as an embrace of the nanny state.  That is not what Santorum means, but in today’s era of government interventionism I can see why they would misunderstand Santorum.

What’s really aggravating about all this is that in being so quick to destroy every conservative that even hints at some kind of “impurity,” conservatives have all but guaranteed the nomination of the man they most despise.  So congrats, purists, you’ve managed to do it again.

16 Responses to You Mean Rick Santorum is Not a Libertarian? Burn Him at the Stake!

  • If only his foreign policy was less interventionist, he would be pretty close to the perfect candidate. Certainly better than Romney, but I still have concerns.

  • I, too, am getting tired of “not libertarian” being conflated with “not conservative.” Libertarianism is easier to identify and defend rhetorically, it just stinks on ice when you apply it to all of reality, instead of idealized reality…..

    I don’t think Santorum is very conservative, BUT there’s a difference between “wrong on this, that and the other thing” and “a lefty.” There’s some overlap, of course, but– like Bush– I think his wrong points are well meant. Meaning well doesn’t solve everything, but it beats a cynical desire for power.

  • Maybe traditional conservatism was more paternalistic but with advances in economic understanding, thanks more to Milton Friedman than Ayn Rand, American conservatism has become more economically libertarian.

  • In other words, don’t use that charity stuff to cede everything to unlimited government.

  • I think there is a genuine fear of more federal expansion disguised as compassionate conservatism. The author’s belief is much of the Santorum’s writings along with his legislative history advocate federal intervention where lower levels of government, or better yet non-government, institutions can do better. It’s not that federal management is always bad, but the “federal government first” attitude leads to expansion of power. I think the author would prefer governance closer to the principle of subsidiarity.

    While he did criticize Santorum’s view of governance, he also complimented him on his desire to want to help.

  • I think Jeff Goldstein knocks it out of the park here:

    GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum defends capitalism, defends Mitt Romney’s earlier engagement of capitalism on capitalistgrounds (as opposed to Romney himself, who appealed for a defense to progressive corporatism), and yet the GOP establishment and its attendant media — as well as an increasing number of sober, pragmatic, “it’s time to rally behind a single candidate” members of the conservative base — tell us that it is Santorum who is unelectable, and throw their support behind the candidate who enacted state-run health care, and who can’t even defend his own engagement in capitalism without retreating to a progressive defense.

    More at the link here.

  • Jeff, I would love to rally around Santorum, but 8 years of compassionate conservatism was hard enough to take. As crazy it sounds, sometimes I feel like rolling the dice with Romney or Ron Paul. And yes, that is crazy! Still hoping for Perry despite his having to work against media mis-portrayals of every word he says. That includes much of conservative media.

  • Read points two and three, because Jeff’s point is precisely that Santorum is not the nanny stater in this contest.

  • My opinion is based on his legislative record. He’s less a nanny stater than Romney and certainly Obama.

  • I just came across this interest article discussing the Santorum & federalism problem. It uses the issue of marriage between homosexuals to illustrate a point.

    http://formidablecourage.wordpress.com/2012/01/12/perry-santorum-and-the-evangelical-dilemma/

  • On economic paternalism, Santorum is mostly wrong. Better to alleviate the destruction of creative destruction than to prevent the whole thing. I understand his point that it has social dimensions but even taking that into consideration, protectionism is more harmful than free enterprise.

    On moral paternalism, Santorum is mostly right. We punish immoral behavior to the extent that it prevents more harm than it creates. We also promote moral behavior in a limited way by keeping it free from impediments. While the state may legitimately actively promote moral behavior, I don’t think the track record is great. In Europe, churches live in a culture of dependency where they get government handouts without having to work.

    Where I’m not sure what role the government should play is in quality-of-life paternalism. Smoking bans, trans fat bans, healthy eating campaigns. I.e., limiting or subsidizing amoral choices. One can argue that this sort of paternalism degrades personal initiative. On the other hand, they’re things I may admit that I am weak at controlling and therefore want some help with. Is there any CST guidance on this?

  • There is no perfect candidate and we can’t dig up Reagan and run him again. I feel like Santorum is the best candidate and I will continue to support him. one thing we must all understand is that Congress must be changed. Congress is the root of our problems. Our elected officials have been allowed to corrupt the system and continue to bankrupt our country and our childrens heritage. Don’t compromise on a Presidential candidate, support the person who best represents our beliefs even if some overpaid pundits say he/she is unelectable. And more importantly get rid of the entrenched Congresmen and send some new blood to Washington.

  • There is no perfect candidate and we can’t dig up Reagan and run him again.

    We’re Catholics. If we can dig up a pope and strip him of his vestments, this should be a small matter. Heck, I can’t see how any corpse could be a worse president that the one we have and most who are running, but Reagan’s corpse might do a pretty impressive job.

    :)

  • Sometimes, Paul Zummo, rhetorical hyperbole just leaves one looking hyper. I found your defense of Sen. Santorum and his big government conservatism unpersuasive.

    RR’s comments here make a lot of sense to me and RR’s mention of Milton Friedman should remind us all of the Invisible Foot.

    Sometime in the previous century, the federal government went beyond helping localities provide a safety net. Federal provision increasingly became a hammock for those who learned to exploit the system and is now often a sticky spider’s web that traps those who come into contact with it due to a temporary hardship. I have news for Santorum et alia, the Great Depression ended almost 70 years ago. Cease rendering the poor unto Caesar.

  • RL hits it out of the park.

    Any one of the GOP hopefuls is 100% better than that Obama nobody. Two out of three know Obama and his gangsters are very bad news for America.

    Tip to all. Cut the attacks against each other.

    The one with the best depiction of how the Obama wrecking machine is killing America is the most electable.

    Obama must go.

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