Political Animal


February 16, 2012 11:21 AM A Matter of Temperament

By Ed Kilgore

After my bout of horror yesterday upon reading excerpts from a stump speech by Rick Santorum in Idaho (I wasn’t alone: check out Charles Pierce’s reaction to the same speech, which challenged even his formidable powers of vituperation), I got to thinking about the essential differences between these two men who are battling for the Republican presidential nomination. There are remarkably few policy differences in what they stand for currently. Both signed the “cut, cap and balance” pledge that would require if implemented a shrinkage of the federal government to pre-Great-Society, and perhaps pre-New-Deal levels. Both endorsed Paul Ryan’s budget proposal. Both want big tax cuts, though Mitt’s naturally more focused on the corporate side of the equation while Santorum is interested in using the tax code for counter-cultural social engineering. Both would amend the U.S. Constitution to ban same-sex marriage and abortion. Yes, Rick backs a Personhood Amendment while Mitt, at this point at least, doesn’t. But that’s pretty thin gruel in the way of significant policy differences, and probably little more than those that, say, separated Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton in 2008.

The temperamental difference, however, is evident, as Mike Tomasky nicely captured after watching Romney’s CPAC speech:

Romney just doesn’t hate liberals. You can tell he just doesn’t. Then he tries to act like he does, and you can tell it even more. He didn’t grow up in that kind of atmosphere—his dad, though a Republican, was plenty liberal by today’s standards—and later in life he obviously didn’t govern in that kind of atmosphere. And so liberal hatred is simply not woven into his DNA….
The specific moment all this hit me came when he said he’d repeal Obamacare. Huge applause, his biggest applause line of the day. But then, he just moved on. So that was it. One sentence. And I thought, you know, if he really wants to connect with these people on the most visceral level, he’d spend 10 minutes on Obamacare—how evil it is, how it’s exactly the kind of totalitarian garbage those liberals cook up all the time, how these liberals want to take away your freedom step by step, et cetera. Everyone made a big deal out of the fact that he used “conservative,” or a variant thereof, two dozen times in the speech. But more telling is that he used “liberal” only three times, and two of those were sort of neutral.

Santorum clearly does not have that problem.

I’ve always observed that there were two basic kinds of conservatives: those who disagreed with me, and perhaps thought I was a misguided, or a fool, or even in the grip of deeply destructive impulses and opinions and beliefs, but still thought I might be worth arguing with; and those who’d be perfectly happy living in a one-party state where people like me would be silenced or jailed. Review Santorum’s rhetoric in his Boise speech, and it’s pretty clear on which side of the line he falls.

Does that make Santorum more dangerous as a potential president? Probably, though you could also make the case that Romney’s obvious lack of solidarity with genuine liberal-haters means that he will perpetually have to prove himself to them through exceptionally reactionary policies and exceptionally vicious behavior, however insincere. Ultimately, it may not really matter whether the president of the United States authentically considers a sizable minority of his or her fellow-Americans traitors and looters and idol-worshipers and baby-killers, or just governs that way. But the fact remains that listening to Rick Santorum in full feral roar sends cold chills down my spine, while Mitt just leaves me cold, and cynically hoping his habit of mendacity extends to everything he’s telling hard-core conservatives to gain their votes.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • T2 on February 16, 2012 11:44 AM:

    I don't think there is much to argue about here. It is plain as day that a Santorum or Gingrich presidency (or Palin, Bachmann, Cain, Perry, DeMint, Ryan, etc.) would be a massive disaster for the nation.
    We could live through Romney, even if he is just a pawn like Bush was. Might not be fun, but the country would survive, even if barely. We made it through Bush and those same forces would be pulling the Mitt puppet strings so at least we'd know what's coming.
    That said, we'll be much better off with Barack Obama.

  • Tom Q on February 16, 2012 12:03 PM:

    This is something of a Hobson's Choice, but my feeling is this: the differences between a Romney presidency and a Santorum one would be minor. Either would empower a Congressional party that is fully in line with what Santorum expresses. Whether that agenda is supported reluctantly or with enthusiasm is of little consequence; it would be a disaster either way.

    That being the case, I'd far rather a candidate who's upfront about it, who allows the electorate to see what he has in mind (in which case I believe the electorate would soundly reject it). The danger with Romney is that some voters -- in line with such Even the Liberal Media types as Tomasky and apparently yourself -- might convince themselve there's not that much to fear and pull the lever for the GOP.

  • Josef K on February 16, 2012 12:09 PM:

    There are remarkably few policy differences in what they stand for currently.

    As I stated yesterday, the Republicans have to choose between a fop and a lunatic. If, gods help us, the choose the latter, it will only reinforce how damaged our discourse has become.

  • SecularAnimist on February 16, 2012 12:21 PM:

    They are both equally dangerous because they are both bought-and-paid-for stooges of the fossil fuel corporations, which are an existential danger to human civilization.

    Their "conservative" rhetoric is cynical, calculated bullshit, with which they bamboozle weak-minded, ignorant, mean-spirited, gullible Ditto-Heads. They will use it as needed to get votes and support from the right-wing extremist base.

    But as president, either of them will do whatever the Koch Brothers tell them to do.

  • stinger on February 16, 2012 12:32 PM:

    There's a Romney quote in the video clip you've posted above: "I didn't know there was any problem with that [driving for 12 hours with a created dog strapped to the roof of the car], in terms of the law."

    That, along with the "I'm running for President, for Pete's sake", shows that his concern is with the letter of the law and not with actual humane ethics. Such soulessness is chilling.

    Santorum, on the other hand, is chilling in what he would do to the likes of me if he had the power.

    I never felt that way about McCain, or Dole, or Reagan or either Bush. This is a whole new world we're living in.

    "quickly, dedTMan", indeed.

  • stinger on February 16, 2012 12:34 PM:

    "crated", not created!

  • Dennis on February 16, 2012 12:36 PM:

    Actually, I do agree with Santorum, although I think that it is the Republicans (yes, all of them) whou should be rounded up and sent to Greenland (without winter coats or heating oil, just as they try to treat the poor here) forever.

  • emjayay on February 16, 2012 12:44 PM:

    From Santorum's speech:

    "When it was all the rage, when the NBC peacock was green, because we were all concerned about the 'science' of manmade global warming, when everybody was running for the hills because there was 'real climate science' that showed man's imapct on the warming and cooling of the planet, I didn't run and sit on a couch next to anybody on television. I didn't pass, as governor, the first cap on carbon emissions in the history of the country. I stood and said, 'This isn't climate science. This is political science.' And guess who turned out to be right.I give credit to the other folks in this campaign. At least they've come to their senses. The president still believes this garbage. Why? Because this is how The Left wants to control.... Why? You can't be trusted with freedom."

    Wow. I hadn't heard that the conclusions of virtually all climate scientists - atmosphere guys, earth guys, ocean guys - have now been proven to be a left wing political conspiracy. Here I thought all the global warming predictions were being validated and even shown to be too conservative more and more every day.

    Now I know better. Thanks Rick.

    (Not previewing any more. It now makes no sense and does not work. Used to though before it was improved. Any typos - sorry.)

  • CDW on February 16, 2012 12:49 PM:

    If Santorum were the only one making these noises, it would be one thing. But the entire party is running along the same track. Some of the governors and state legislators have been sending chills down my spine, especially since the 2010 election. There are many examples, but not least among them IMO are the laws ALEC has created and gotten passed. One that comes to mind is the law in at least one midwest state that takes over an incorporated entitiy ousting any legitimately elected officer at will and imposing whatever limitations they care to impose. That's sheer unadulterated tyranny.

  • exlibra on February 16, 2012 12:54 PM:

    As president, either one would have the right to nominate justices for SCOTUS. And both would pick similar kinds of justices to nominate. That alone is, for me, enough to say there's not a ha'p'orth difference between them and both need to be denied the position.

  • chopin on February 16, 2012 1:06 PM:

    So Tomasky believes Mitt is not a bonafide conservative because he doesn't hate liberals? And this is because Romany's values are rooted in reason over emotion? So why is he a Mormon? Or does reason only apply to politics and not religion? If only this arm chair psychology were that easy.

  • rdblybl on February 16, 2012 1:35 PM:

    This winter is shaping up to be one of the warmest on record here in the northeast. The only conspiracy afoot is that of republican denial of any facts. When these clowns are done showing their true colors to all Americans, I think we'll be well rid of them. I certainly hope so.

  • Ryan on February 16, 2012 2:05 PM:

    Conventional wisdom is definitely that Romney's beliefs are more interchangeable, while Santorum's are more consistent and based in his religion. But if you actually compare Santorum's policies to his (Catholic) church's teachings, he seems not only inconsistent, but immoral, even by his own religion's standards.

    There's a funny map/cartoon at Political Relief about it.

    Santorum may believe in his righteousness whole-heartedly, but if his god is keeping score, Santorum is screwed.

  • Kathryn on February 16, 2012 2:19 PM:

    @CDW.....it's Michigan. The Republican Party is a clear and present danger whoever their candidate turns out to be, but I think Romney would be easier to defeat, he's prone to clumsy speech and errors. The zealot Santorum has a messianic appeal for the large and growing extreme base, he's a better speaker than Romney. Santorum would inspire Tea Party base to vote or maybe start a revolution as his lies and chilling rant in Idaho showed yesterday. Electoral success seems to bring out the worst in him and there is quite a lot of evil in that sactimonius dude. Mrs. Santorum looks like someone afflicted with Stockholm Syndrome. I'm betting Rick can be quite the bully.

    The SCOTUS power in either hand will be a disaster.

  • Bruce K on February 16, 2012 3:44 PM:

    OK, so I started to watch this speech, and Santorum starts talking about the Hosanna-Tabor case, saying it's about a woman who sued a Jewish organization because they fired her owing to her lack of belief in their faith. Foolish me, I looked up the case at scotus blog. http://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/hosanna-tabor-evangelical-lutheran-church-and-school-v-eeoc/

    Santorum's speech is a complete fabrication! This is about a woman who became ill/disabled while working for a Lutheran school. When the school refused to take her back, she threatened to sue for discrimination under the ADA. The school then fired her because her threat violated a Lutheran religious tenet that members of the faith should resolve internally their disagreements.

    The Court affirmed the school's claim that since she was involved in some religious teaching activities, she was covered by the "ministerial exception" to employment discrimination laws.

    Argue the merits, whatever, but Santorum's claims are not even misleading, they are complete fabrications. At the beginning of his rant, he asks if people are familiar with this case. He takes the small show of hands, apparently, as license to proceed with his lies.

    Will ANYBODY in the media pick up on this?

  • boatboy_srq on February 16, 2012 4:02 PM:

    Perhaps a shorter way to explain this:

    Rick Santorum is the Catholic politician the Right feared JFK would be.

  • Athena on February 16, 2012 4:14 PM:

    @boatboy_srq: Excellent point!

  • TCinLA on February 16, 2012 4:17 PM:

    Someone recently said that Senate-Loser Little Ricky Frothy-Mixture couldn't figure out whether he was against Vatican II or the New Deal. I think he's actually campaigning against the Age of Enlightenment, and perhaps even the Renaissance. I mean, this is a guy who seriously argued in favor of the goodness of The Crusades!

    Do not, however, consider him and those thugs who were calling Ruth Bader Ginsburg a traitor and cheering on every horrid thing Little Ricky said to be clowns. People made the mistake of thinking Hitler and the Nazis were clowns. That visceral rage he was calling out to about "how dare those elites look down on you!" is very real. Those people would have no problem constructing concentration camps and crematoriums.

  • cmdicely on February 16, 2012 4:22 PM:

    Rick Santorum is the Catholic politician the Right feared JFK would be.

    I'm pretty sure the Right wasn't afraid that JFK would use Catholicism as an excuse to act in lockstep with the far Right.

  • Anonymous on February 16, 2012 4:45 PM:


    The right certainly expected JFK to act in lockstep with SOMEBODY: the chief concern was one of source of authority at least as much as policy. And for sources of authority known at the time, Pius XII springs to mind pretty quickly: not exactly a flaming socialist there. Vatican II wasn't for another two years, and didn't conclude until three more later: that tack Left wasn't immediately visible to the 1960 election dialogue.

    Santorum (and to a lesser extent, Gingrich) is neatly toeing Nazinger's line. The Right is forgetting that it's as much WHY you agree as WHETHER you do. One day they'll wake up to the awareness that they've been nodding and cheering right along with one of those Papist heretics.

  • just some guy on February 16, 2012 5:04 PM:

    While I doubt that there are enough Santorhoids out there to get the Santorum elected, I do look forward to the frothy mix of political descriptors with "santorum" that's emerging in the press from the "Santorum Surge." I've seen "Santorum Covers the Airwaves" and if there are enough Santorhoids voting in the next few primaries, we can look forward to headlines like "Romney Buried Beneath Santorum Landslide" or "Santorum Tidal Wave Covers Romney."

  • just some guy on February 16, 2012 5:08 PM:

    BTW, does anyone know which of the Archbishops is Santorum's choice as a running mate?

  • SecularAnimist on February 16, 2012 5:43 PM:

    boatboy_srq wrote: "Rick Santorum is the Catholic politician the Right feared JFK would be."

    Rick Santorum is a corrupt, cynical, bought-and-paid-for corporate stooge and a lying sack of shit who plays a "Catholic politician" on TV to bamboozle the Ditto-Heads.

    He's not courting the "Catholic vote". He's courting the "Gullible Rube" vote.

  • cmdicely on February 16, 2012 8:03 PM:

    The right certainly expected JFK to act in lockstep with SOMEBODY

    The Right certainly knew that anti-Catholic feeling was common throughout the country in key political demographics and wanted to exploit that feeling. But if you want to pretend that its even remotely plausible that the Right actually feared what they tried to get voters to fear, Santorum doesn't fit the mold -- he's certainly not marching in lockstep with the policies espoused by the Vatican (perhaps he is on the handful of issues that the American media -- as part of a deliberate effort to advance a pre-written narrative crafted by the political Right -- where the media pays significant attention to the political stances of the Catholic Church, but that's not the same thing at all.)

    Santorum (and to a lesser extent, Gingrich) is neatly toeing Nazinger's line.

    Assuming the childish use of "Nazinger" is intended to refer to Benedict XVI, I don't think that's defensible. Of the three encyclicals that have been issued in Benedict's pontificate, only one really addresses issues of public policy, Caritas in veritate, in which the Pope:

    * Calls out the globalization and the consequent weakening of social safety nets as a source of grave danger for human rights (at 25):
    The global market has stimulated first and foremost, on the part of rich countries, a search for areas in which to outsource production at low cost with a view to reducing the prices of many goods, increasing purchasing power and thus accelerating the rate of development in terms of greater availability of consumer goods for the domestic market. Consequently, the market has prompted new forms of competition between States as they seek to attract foreign businesses to set up production centres, by means of a variety of instruments, including favourable fiscal regimes and deregulation of the labour market. These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State.

    * Argued that it is necessary to make increased efforts to promote labor rights in view of the above threat (also at 25):
    Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.

    * Called out deregulation specifically as a threat to marriage (at 26):
    Nevertheless, uncertainty over working conditions caused by mobility and deregulation, when it becomes endemic, tends to create new forms of psychological instability, giving rise to difficulty in forging coherent life-plans, including that of marriage.

    * Called out increasing inequality of wealth within and between countries as a threat to democracy, economy, and "civil coexistence" (at 32):
    Through the systemic increase of social inequality, both within a single country and between the populations of different countries (i.e. the massive increase in relative poverty), not only does social cohesion suffer, thereby placing democracy at risk, but so too does the economy, through t

  • cmdicely on February 16, 2012 8:05 PM:


    [someone really needs to fix preview]

    * Called out increasing inequality of wealth within and between countries as a threat to democracy, economy, and "civil coexistence" (at 32):
    Through the systemic increase of social inequality, both within a single country and between the populations of different countries (i.e. the massive increase in relative poverty), not only does social cohesion suffer, thereby placing democracy at risk, but so too does the economy, through the progressive erosion of "social capital": the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence.

    * Rejects the ideal of the so-called "free market" regulated only to ensure that economic exchanges are consensual between the parties
    The market is subject to the principles of so-called commutative justice, which regulates the relations of giving and receiving between parties to a transaction. But the social doctrine of the Church has unceasingly highlighted the importance of distributive justice and social justice for the market economy, not only because it belongs within a broader social and political context, but also because of the wider network of relations within which it operates. In fact, if the market is governed solely by the principle of the equivalence in value of exchanged goods, it cannot produce the social cohesion that it requires in order to function well.

    * Expressly endorses redistributive action by government as essential to justice (at 36):
    Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

    * States that it is obligatory for developed nations to reduce energy consumption (at 49):
    The technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption, either through an evolution in manufacturing methods or through greater ecological sensitivity among their citizens.

    While Santorum might be somewhere near, in policy terms, the Vatican's position on abortion or same-sex marriage, he's marching more in lockstep with James Dobson than Benedict XVI, and his agreements (and disagreements) with the Vatican seem to be in exactly the same places the American Right agrees (and disagrees) with the Vatican.