Rick Santorum has this face he makes in debates. He made it a lot last night in Arizona. I couldn’t find a picture on the Google machine, which is disappointing because I figure someone has to have shot it at some point. It’s a combination of expressions that sort of add up to “You are such an idiot.” It’s kind of his trademark face, and to be fair, he’s not the only one who has a trademark face. Newt Gingrich has his blank “no, it’s really not that hard” face that immediately precedes a superior, one-word answer to a complicated question. Mitt Romney has his wide-eyed eyebrows-up face that means “I’m going to pretend I don’t really, really hate being questioned.” Ron Paul has his similarly wide-eyed face that means “Just stop fighting wars. How many times do I have to say it?” but, on the street, could be misinterpreted to mean “Just take my wallet, here, don’t hurt me.”
But Rick Santorum’s trademark face pisses me off more than the rest of them (Newt is a close second). Because it is the frequent mark of his condescension and belies his diplomatic approach to most (non-social) issues.
Right now, he’s edging Mitt Romney in national polls. Yes, it’s true, at least per Real Clear Politics and the Associated Press-GfK. Santorum got a bump from the birth control debate and might not be hurt by any of his anti-women in combat, semi-anti-women in the workplace rhetoric… probably because the women who support him are like-minded, and those who don’t support him never will.
Meanwhile, Mitt Romney just keeps struggling. He opened the debate with his introduction and, when he got applause, he quoted George Costanza from Seinfeld. I guess he wants to prove he’s a regular guy, but mostly, he’s just awkward when nobody writes down his words for him. Last week he declared his love for Michigan in part due to the height of its trees. Apparently they are of exactly the correct stature, as compared to, say, Iowa or Utah or Massachusetts or New Hampshire. Immediately after this declaration, Romney professed his bright-eyed love of cars. And then last night he reminded everyone of how he would not have favored the auto industry bailout, preferring instead to let them all go into managed bankruptcy and work their way out. You can agree with him or not – I respect the approach – but you can’t deny that the bailout did save a million jobs that might otherwise have gone the way of the Pontiac, and that isn’t going to help Romney in his native Michigan, where his father was a very popular governor. He’s trailing Santorum there.
He’s also trailing in Pennsylvania, by a lot. Pennsylvania is the state responsible for Rick Santorum. It’s also the state that kicked him out of the Senate in 2006.
The Crazy Train left the station right from jump, after Romney quoted George Costanza and Newt Gingrich told the country he’d get gas back to $2.50 a gallon. (He also said BMW, Toyota, Honda and Mercedes plants in the US were all doing fine during the auto crisis. Anybody see a political and economic problem with that logic?) Ron Paul pulled no punches and suffered no hesitation when asked why he’s calling Santorum a fake in his campaign ads. “Because he is a fake,” he said, citing a number of instances in which Paul believes Santorum veered dramatically off his allegedly fiscally conservative course. That’s a set of accusations Santorum deflected with his own proof positive. No points for either side.
Romney tried to explain what on earth he was talking about when he claimed last week to have been “severely conservative” as governor of Massachusetts, as though it was some sort of disease (which some people might actually believe is the case). He said “severe” meant strict, that he was without question a conservative governor. That’s a long way from saying you were severely conservative, and nothing he noted in the answer struck me as being particularly right-wing:
I campaigned for and fought for English immersion in our school, and had that successfully implemented. My policies in Massachusetts were to — were conservative, and in a state, as Rick indicated, a state that was a relatively liberal state, I stood up and said I would stand on the side of life when the legislature passed a bill saying that life would not be defined not at conception but later.
I said no. When there was an effort to put in place embryo farming and cloning, I vetoed that. When the Catholic Church was attacked, saying, look we’re not going to allow you to continue to place children in homes where there’s a preference for a man and a woman being the mom and dad, I worked with the Catholic Church to put legislation in place to protect their right to exercise their religious conscience.
They’re conservative positions, but not “severely” so. A lot of more liberal people would support those efforts, if only because there is a degree of government overreach in forcing private organizations to do something against their beliefs – whether we agree or not. (For the record, I believe the administration’s efforts to force groups like the Catholic Church to pay for birth control was overreach. It might seem like outdated theology to those who don’t adhere to it, but the government can’t force the Church to directly contradict its own belief system. It’s a violation of the separation of Church and State.)
Santorum’s Achilles heel for the night was earmarks. His voting record does include a lot of bills with earmarks. He’s confessed that he now believes some of them were mistakes. But here’s where his social conservatism is moderated a bit: he has voted to fund Planned Parenthood, which is something that a lot of his more socially conservative supporters might find surprising. It wasn’t recent, since he hasn’t been voting in the House or Senate for years, but it’s still in his record. And his defense was, “Well, they asked for the earmarks.”
They’re governors. Governors ask for money. Yes, Romney asked for the earmarks associated with the Olympic Games for which you voted. But you can’t say earmarks are bad and then say your record is all the fault of various governors. The truth is, Santorum doesn’t have a firm stand on earmarks, no matter how much he wants you to believe he does. He has a fairly reasonable approach: some earmarks are bad. Some are good. But on the whole, they contribute to the debt and deficit, so let’s curb them. That’s his real stance, no matter what he says.
A viewer emailed or tweeted or Facebooked or whatevered a question about birth control, and the audience booed it.
The audience booed a viewer’s question.
Audiences. Honestly. Jackals, the lot.
And so began a conversation that included the phrases “legalized infanticide” and “dangers of contraception.” (Two different candidates – you guess who.) In case you’re wondering, the dangers of contraception apparently include the increasing number of children born out of wedlock.
Call me confused… I’m pretty sure that’s a danger of not having contraception.
They also include the number of sexually active teens. I’ll grant that concern. But I find fault in a logic that says that the problem of “children raising children” out of wedlock in this country is because there’s birth control available. Birth control, by definition, cuts down on the numbers of children raising children. Its availability does not lead kids to have unprotected sex – that doesn’t even make sense. Misuse, miseducation… that might lead to children having children. Contraception’s availability leading to too many babies? Come on.
One thing did come to light, though. Romney said now we know why George Stephanopoulos insisted on the conversation about birth control in a previous debate against which I ranted. Touche’.
CNN moderator John King (taking less crap this time) moved the conversation to gas prices, and something strange happened. Mitt Romney punted. Right away, he said that the price of gas is nothing compared to the danger of a nuclear Iran. At first I thought he was saying we have to deal with high prices if we want to keep Iran from going glowing. Strait of Hormuz and all that. But no. Turned out, he was completely diverting onto the president’s way of handling Iran. Clearly, the two items are linked somewhat, but he didn’t make the connection. He just ignored the question about gas prices. This makes me think he has no plan to lower them (which I personally think can’t be done anyway, without a federal subsidy beyond that which is already in place or a calming of all international tensions, not just Iran). But the discussion went on, about Iran and then Syria, and then Libya and Egypt, without any kind of reference to oil and gas until Newt Gingrich circled it back around (and you knew he’d be the one to do it). It gave him an opportunity to talk about his plan to decrease the country’s reliance on foreign oil and open up the US oil fields. He was the only one who talked about a specific energy plan.
But the point he made that might have landed the best punch was when he said this, almost as an afterthought: “This is an administration which, as long as you’re America’s enemy, you’re safe. You know, the only people you’ve got to worry about is if you’re an American ally.”
Santorum nodded broadly. The point: the candidates believe the Obama administration has kowtowed to foreign leaders of dangerous states while alienating those with whom the US historically stands firm. Like Israel.
The conversation turned to education, and Rick Santorum again admitted that his vote in favor of No Child Left Behind was a mistake. His reason: he thought it would do good, but didn’t realize at the time of the vote how much money would be spent to go a relatively short distance. He was booed when he said sometimes you take one for the team. But he schooled the audience by replying, “Politics is a team sport, folks. And sometimes you’ve got to rally together and do something.”
Mitt Romney talked about Massachusetts’ program for education and charter schools when he was governor, and Newt Gingrich backed up the idea of charter schools and insisted that the problem in education is the teachers’ union. I won’t go into the whole thing here, but it’s worth reading in the transcript. You can search for “education” to find it.
Oh, and Ron Paul flatly stated the Constitution gives the federal government no authority to be involved in education whatsoever. Which I suppose is true, if we’re literal.
In the last segment of the debate, John King asked each candidate what he thought was the biggest misconception about him. Ron Paul said it was that he can’t win. Newt Gingrich strayed a bit and talked about what he did as Speaker under Saint Ronald Reagan. Rick Santorum said (albeit long-windedly) it’s that he can’t beat President Obama. Mitt Romney went way off topic and just started reciting his stump speech. When King reminded him of the actual question, he replied: “You know, you get to ask the questions want, I get to give the answers I want. Fair enough?”
No, sir. Not fair enough. Exactly the opposite of fair enough. What’s fair enough is to answer the question.
Of course, the audience applauded Romney’s line.