Shannon Stapleton / Reuters
A supporter of Republican presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum attends a campaign stop at Rockingham County Nursing Home in Brentwood, New Hampshire Jan. 4, 2012.
“I’ll be very upfront about this: I am not a libertarian,” Republican presidential contender Rick Santorum told those who showed up to hear him at a two-hour town hall meeting in Brentwood, New Hampshire on Wednesday night. “I am a conservative. I am a Reagan conservative; I am not a libertarian. And the people who call me a big government guy are libertarians.”
If you couldn’t be there to hear Santorum, or if you missed the live broadcast of his town hall event on C-SPAN, the former Pennsylvania senator detailed his views at great length in his 2005 book “It Takes A Family,” which is, in part, a rebuttal to Hillary Clinton’s more famous “It Takes A Village.”
Santorum’s book doesn’t deal with foreign policy but does set out his approach to domestic policy: an active use of federal power and of the tax code to promote traditional behaviors and to preserve man-woman marriages.
Unlike Tea Party activists, Santorum doesn’t shrink away from the federal government; he wants to use it to nudge people toward more virtuous behavior, which he thinks will be best taught in traditional heterosexual families.
“Every statistic I am aware of ... indicates that marriage is better for children, and usually by a very wide margin,” he says in the book.
“There really should be no family ‘debate,’ no marriage ‘debate.’ The social science, four thousand years of human history and common sense have long settled the question. In a decent society, every child should have the best shot of growing up to be a healthy and successful adult. That opportunity is found in healthy, married, mom-and-dad families.”
Santorum spends much time in the book denouncing and rebutting what he see as the misguided live-and-let-live attitude of liberals.
He says, “Liberals believe that the traditional family is neither natural nor vital, that it’s an antiquated social convention which has not only outlived its usefulness, but is now inherently discriminatory and repressive toward legitimate alternative ‘families.’”
He rails against the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court which in its 2003 Goodrich decision legalized same-sex marriages and ruled that Massachusetts marriage law discriminated against gay people for no rational reason. “No amount of tinkering with language will eradicate that stain,” the court said, to which Santorum replies, “So, traditional marriage is a stain on the fabric of America that needs to be ‘Shouted out.’ How have we come to this?”
He contends that smaller social units than the federal government – the family, the neighborhood, churches, schools and civic associations – are best suited to build up America’s “social capital” – its legacy of traditional values.
“When government steps in and imposes a bureaucratic solution based on individualistic presuppositions, it removes expectations and responsibilities from smaller social units – especially the family,” he says, citing the pre-1996 welfare system as the prime example of a top-down federal solution that led to disaster in his view.
He does say there have been times in American history when the federal government had to act “in the face of gross failure at the smaller levels of the state or community,” citing the creation of the Social Security system and the enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act as examples. But he adds, “Usually it is best if the government is the silent partner, not the managing partner.”
A look at the Pennsylvania politician — his career on Capitol Hill and his White House aspirations.
But Santorum does support “aggressive enforcement” by the Federal Communications Commission of standards that ban obscenity on television. And he praises the Federal Trade Commission for monitoring marketing to teenagers and children. He calls for greater federal scrutiny of violence in the movies and in video games. “Government has a role to play here, just as in food safety and drug certification,” he says.
He does not argue for creating a federal Department of Marriage, or Department of Parenting, but he does call for grants to local governments and to non-profit agencies to bolster traditional marriages and educate people about the benefits of marriage. “Other eligible projects might include premarital counseling, couples counseling, conflict resolution and parenting classes,” he writes in the book.
Along with former Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat, Santorum called for $50 million a year in federal outlays for “community- and faith-based programs that promote and foster healthy fatherhood.” He says, “There is simply no substitute for the natural family, no substitute for a real dad, however flawed.”
Arguing that parents need to spend more time with their children, Santorum calls for federal outlays and tax credits to encourage telecommuting, so that mothers and fathers could work at home. He also gets in some sardonic asides at “radical feminism’s misogynistic crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect.”
If families could keep more of what they earned, he says, they could better care for their children: “The more government taxes someone, the less they are able to take care of themselves and their families ... .”
So “we need a tax policy that stops discriminating against families and starts favoring them,” he says, calling for an increase in the $1,000 tax credit for each child under age 17 and for revamping the Alternative Minimum Tax so it does not impose a penalty on families with lots of children.
On Thursday, we saw both the Rick Santorum who has a serious shot to challenge Mitt Romney for the party's nomination and the Rick Santorum who can be marginalized and thrown off message. Msnbc's Chuck Todd reports.
In rhetoric that might appeals to some in the Occupy Wall Street movement, Santorum says, “When the top 20 percent of our population commands 83 percent of the wealth, we have a wealth gap that is unhealthy. It leads to class envy and hopelessness, in addition to political hyperbole. The opportunity to build wealth, and the understanding of how to do that, needs to be democratized.”
How to do that? Santorum calls for federal, state and private grants to faith-based organizations to help their low-income clients set up tax-free Individual Development Accounts, which would be used to build assets to buy a house, pay for education or start a small business.
"It Takes A Family" supplies ample proof that, as Santorum said Wednesday night “I’m not a libertarian” and that his critics’ charge that he is “a big government guy” is not so off the mark.