Santorum on Our Decline

March 3, 2012

Is it because Ohio is a “swing state”?  I got to hear both Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney speak at campaign events in the Cincinnati area today.  (Newt Gingrich was also in the area, but his event conflicted with Santorum’s.  Anyway I heard Gingrich when he was in town last month.)

I was surprised how much Santorum sounded like Mark Steyn.  He talked about how dramatically dependency-creating “entitlements” have grown over the last century; I didn’t write down the numbers he used, but here are some similar ones:  Entitlement programs (“payments for individuals”) have gone from 17.5% of federal spending in 1940 (1940-1960 average: 18%) to more than 60% today (Table 11.1 from the Office of Management and Budget).  In 1940, spending on national defense (i.e., the core function of the federal government) was also 17.5%, but that’s an outlier; its 1940-1960 average was 57.7%.  Today, defense spending accounts for less than 20%.  (Table 3.1.)  (The Heritage Foundation offers a similar perspective in terms of GDP rather than of total federal spending.)

He also agreed with Steyn that culture is deeper and more important than politics, and that our liberty and limited government depend in part on having strong mediating institutions (churches, civic associations, others) standing between us and the government.

Santorum said that he wants to replace our current, insanely complex income-tax code with a simple two brackets and five deductions.  He discussed his tax plan at some length (and pointed out that neither Obama nor Romney is for such deep reforms).

He also pointed out that not only was Romney doing Obamacare before it was popular (his state-level Romneycare), which I knew, but Romney also publicly advocated an individual mandate at the national level—as recently as 2009.  I had no idea.

Note also that Romney, in that 2009 opinion piece, cautions President Obama that “Health care is many times bigger than all the companies in the Dow Jones combined,” but implies that it’s still fine for the government to take it over and try to run it, as long as it first takes its time and consults plenty of experts—which I find deeply troubling and very relevant, if we’re trying to figure out whether Romney really has any commitment to limited government.

Romney’s speech was very different.  He sounded very good, but he didn’t seem to have much to say, either in the way of policy particulars or Steyn-level perspective and vision.  He said that the recent federal deficit spending has been very bad and we should spend less.  He said taxes are too high.  He said President Obama shouldn’t cut military spending so much.  He agrees with Santorum that the government should hinder domestic energy production less.  I don’t believe he mentioned entitlements.

I’ve been open to the common argument that Romney is the more electable of the two—and to the less common argument that Romney is stronger on illegal immigration—but I confess that I am more and more impressed with Santorum, and distinctly unimpressed with Romney.  The arguments for Romney seem to depend on a double standard:  Santorum should be disqualified because of this or that (at the time unremarkable among congressional Republicans) bad vote he cast as a senator, but Romney should be totally excused for his long record as “pro-choice”, anti-gun, etc.—and in favor of the individual mandate as recently as 2009.  I’m not persuaded.

(Full disclosure: I have money on Santorum, Romney, and Gingrich.)

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8 Responses to “Santorum on Our Decline”

  1. Matt Says:

    I never would have thought it as recently as two months ago, but Santorum is growing on me as well.

  2. Tevyeh Says:

    “I’ve been open to the common argument that Romney is the more electable of the two…”

    In that spirit, I’m open to the argument that styrofoam is more buoyant than lead.

    • Tevyeh Says:

      In Michigan’s open primary, an estimated 10% of voters were Democrats. Of these, approximately 53% voted for Santorum, vs. 17% for Romney.

      This should tell us something.


      • I don’t want to go all Tevyeh-Sowell-limits-of-human-knowledge on you, but yes, it tells us something: either that Democrat voters in Michigan think Santorum is the less viable candidate, and were voting for him to give Obama a weaker opponent; or that they actually like Santorum better than Romney, and were straightforwardly voting for the candidate they prefer—which would tend to imply that Santorum is the more electable candidate in a general election, not Romney. In other words, arguably, it by itself tells us nothing at all.

        On the latter possibility, note that Santorum was explicitly making a pitch to blue-collar workers. The numbers you mention could mean simply that Santorum’s strategy worked.

        On the former possibility, note that that would still prove only that Democrat voters thought Santorum was the weaker candidate, not that he actually is.

      • Snoodickle Says:

        An apple is sitting beneath an apple tree. There are two explanations for how it got there (1) it fell from the apple tree. (2) aliens made a fake poisonous apple and put it below the apple tree to kill whoever eats it.

      • Tevyeh Says:

        I’ve got a better one. A priest is driving along, gets distracted, and rear-ends a rabbi. As they’re exchanging info, an Irish policeman pulls up. Briefly assessing the scene, the cop turns to the priest and asks, “Father, about how fast was this man driving when he backed into you?”


  3. […] are not listed below are, as far as I can tell, uncontested.)  You already know my views on the presidential contest.  The next-biggest contest is for the […]


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