I need to add that Santorum is a product of the times. Intelligent observers, below, have noted that successful politics are generally about compromise. And I agree. But not right now. What we need (in the short term - 3-5 years) are candidates who will argue our principles forcefully, repeatedly and with conviction. That may change sometime in the future when moderation returns. But for now, we must fight these folks tooth and nail.
I recommend that folks take some time and read the piece on Rick Santorum in the Sunday New York Times Magazine titled, The Believer (subscription required).
It's an interesting read. While Santorum would love to marry church and state (while prohibiting marriage between gays, of course), the article, by Michael Sokolove, offers up some interesting insights that could teach our side some valuable lessons in how to win elections.
In particular, I found this passage intriguing:
Therein lies a critical political lesson for Democratic candidates:
Believing in core principles, and arguing for these core prnciples with simple, redundant messages and passion, is the most certain way to impact the electorate in your favor.
What struck me reading this piece is that the only Democrat who would go on record for the article praising Santorum is -- you guessed it -- Joe Lieberman. And, ironically, Santorum doesn't even mention Lieberman as on of the "principled Democrats" he admires.
Why? Because Joe Lieberman violates the very tenets of belief in principle exhibited by the likes of Wellstone, Waxman, Feingold, and, yes, Santorum. Lieberman, in fact, is the walking, talking poster child for the "wishy-washy moderates" that Santorum disdains.
A puzzling fact of the 2004 election is that Bush won by a slim majority even though, by a similar slim majority, most Americans thought that he was wrong on Iraq and doing a lousy job managing the economy.
So why did that slim majority vote for him when they disagreed with him on two critical issues?
I think the explanation is simple, really. They perceived that he believed what he said. That he believed in his core prinicples... even those principles that a majority of Americans thought were wrong. To be sure, much of that perception was bogus, driven by Rovian talking points repeated ad infinitum. But at a time in history when Americans were looking for steadfastness in their chosen leader, Bush delivered.
Kerry? Not to rehash his campaign, but his inability to settle on a simple three-part message (yes, the magic of threes) until the final two or three weeks of the campaign fed directly into Rove's efforts to paint the Senator as a flip-flopper. Far too easily.
The point of all this is that the American electorate is looking for "Believers." Not necessarily of the religious variety, but candidates who clearly articulate their core principles (repeatedly) and stick to them.
That's why I don't buy all the yapping from the centrists that we have to talk "values" or talk "personal faith" in order to compete. In fact, unless a candidate is a truly religious person, talking about faith falls right into the Rovian trap of seeming disingenuous (see: Hillary Clinton talking about her personal faith).
We need candidates who stand for something. Core Democratic principles. And stand strong.
We need House, Senate and presidential candidates who understand that putting a wet finger to the wind on a daily basis during a campaign, more often than not, snatches defeat from the jaws of victory.
We need candidates who believe.
Hard to fathom, but we can learn a thing or two from Rick Santorum...