Political Animal


January 16, 2012 10:00 AM How Santorum defines ‘social engineering’

By Steve Benen

On “Fox News Sunday,” Chris Wallace pressed Rick Santorum on his plan to triple the federal tax credit for children, in the hopes that Americans will have more babies. The host told the presidential candidate that the Wall Street Journal editorial page complained that Santorum is “essentially agreeing with liberals who think that the tax code should be used to pursue social and political goals.”

I rather enjoyed the former senator’s response.

“What’s happening in this country — we’ve seen a dramatic increase. The child adoption credit or deduction back then used to be 10 times, almost 10 times what it is today. When the government had a policy that said, we want human capital, we need and actually want children to be here in America and the government has a policy of helping and supporting families because children are the greatest resource. They’re the natural resource that creates wealth in this country.

“And if it wasn’t for immigration, our population would be declining. And one of the biggest reasons, Chris, is the financial burden on families. And the federal government over the years has year by year by year decreased support for families. And guess what’s happening? Year by year by year, birth rates are going down.

“This is not social engineering.”

No, of course not. This is simply a plan in which federal officials would decide to use the power of government taxation to encourage Americans to engage in a certain behavior, in order to advance a larger societal agenda.

Who said anything about “social engineering”?

Look, we could have a conversation about the impact of economic instability and birth rates. But whether Santorum’s plan constitutes social engineering isn’t really in doubt.

Republicans, most notably social conservatives, are far fonder of the practice than they like to admit. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R), for example, sought federal grants to pay for counseling that encourages unwed parents to marry and free marriage licenses for those who do.

In the abstract, the right is supposed to be offended, at a fundamental level, by the idea of using federal resources to alter how people can and will behave. It’s supposed to be anathema for anyone who values “limited” government.

But in practice, when it comes to child tax credits, abstinence programs, marriage counseling, etc., conservatives think social engineering is a great idea. It’s foolish for Santorum to argue otherwise.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • ed on January 16, 2012 10:08 AM:

    Is this so we can have more soldiers to fight and die in more wars, or does he just want to have more serfs?

  • Danp on January 16, 2012 10:11 AM:

    What Santorum doesn't call social engineering, used to be what Republicans called a welfare state. I'm guessing he would only extend these credits to married couples with one income and a mother who wears pearls while vacuuming.

  • walt on January 16, 2012 10:18 AM:

    It's like "judicial activism". When they do it, it becomes something entirely different. As always, IOKIYAR.

    All taxation, all government, all of our social compact goes to promote the general welfare. You can call it social engineering in order to slur the progressive intent of that decreasing portion going to help people who need help. And you can call increasing income inequality "helping families" if that's what he takes to fool the rubes in the heartland. But you don't get to wrap yourself in the mantle of virtue just because your social engineering is, ipso facto, "good".

  • DAY on January 16, 2012 10:20 AM:

    A bit of historical perspective is called for.

    In the 19th C large families were the norm, because many children died in infancy, and family farm labor was in demand.

    As the 20th C arrived so did mechanization, and the need for cheap, unskilled labor dwindled.

    Since the 1970's wages have stagnated, and the 99% cannot afford unproductive (i.e. unemployed) mouths to feed.

    Give us good jobs, Mr. Santorum, we will go f*ck our brains out for you!

  • c u n d gulag on January 16, 2012 10:27 AM:

    I believe Santorum left one word unsaid:

    He's talking about WHITE people having children.

    I'm sure he'd secretly be happy to sterilize non-white people.

    I seem to recall someone in history who had similar ideas.
    But, our boy Godwin forbids me from mentioning his name.

  • Mudge on January 16, 2012 10:34 AM:

    If a couple earns over $110,000, the child tax credit is reduced, although they still get the additional dependent deduction. Even with an enhanced child tax credit, they should ask themselves "can we afford to send an additional child to college?" The answer will be no. For the 49% who do not pay income tax, this child credit will be moot, since they have no tax to reduce. In effect, an increase in this credit will increase the number who do not pay taxes just considering existing children.

    So, a family with two children would get an extra $4000 tax credit if the credit were tripled. I doubt having that savings would stimulate them to have another child. They'd more than likely continue to use contraceptives, say "thank you very much" and spend the $4000. Santorum's proposal is thus a stimulus package for the middle class.

    Someone should tell him.

  • lou on January 16, 2012 10:44 AM:

    "Someone should tell him."

    Why? Haven't we all wasted enough time on all these goofy GOP candidates plus their goofy ideas that have no chance of going anywhere?

    Romney has plenty of bad ideas. Time to get with the real battle.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on January 16, 2012 10:56 AM:

    >> This is not social engineering.

    You have to remember. For the rabid right, words are not a marker of objective reality, used to facilitate understanding among people. Words are rallying flags. They don't have intrinsic meaning; they have intrinsic morality. Social engineering isn't a thing one does; it's a thing liberals do and so it's bad. If a rabid rightwing nut wants to do something that looks like social engineering, it can't be, because (by definition) whatever a rabid rightwing nut wants to do is good and social engineering is bad.

    It's really quite simple and even breathtaking. The ability to forcibly create by act of will the reality you choose to accept is almost epic.

    Of course, these people spin off into their own insular bubble-reality and come a cropper when they have to deal with the real world. The only question is how soon and how bad will the crack-up be? Because actual reality is a jealous thing and will not be forever denied.

  • Snarki, child of Loki on January 16, 2012 11:08 AM:

    You'll wish you had those 9 kids to support you in your old age, when the GOP kills off Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.

    That's assuming that they don't completely any civiliation that you'd want to live in, as well.

    The "alternate" retirement plan is to invest in insane amounts of liquor and powerful firearms.

  • jhill on January 16, 2012 11:40 AM:

    And it doesn't work. Western European countries have terrific family support in the way of child care, long maternity leaves with pay, good public primary schools, etc., and their birth rates are the lowest in the world.

  • Skip on January 16, 2012 11:41 AM:

    The biggest issue with conservatives is that they only consider half the picture ever. They never look at the ENTIRE scope of their pet hot buttons, from A to Z, assess the facts WITH the Biblical verses, to get a clear rational...or at least clear view of the feasibility of their idealistic mouth utterings.

    Mr. Santorum, what about the children we have today. How many of our kids are getting substandard educations and become less-than-productive adults because of unhappy or unstable home life, substandard teachers, sick schools, and/or dangerous communities.

    We understand, Rick that your method of increasing our population is by removing contraception from folks not ready to be parents and to remove the abortion option of unwanted pregnancies. Rick, exactly how will that produce healthy loving families from which will spring happy productive future consumers?

    Rick, what are your thoughts on the fact that our nation struggles to sustain the population it has, clean air and water being an increasingly scarce commodity in some parts, and landfills, O, the landfills. And the planet itself is beginning to rebel against all the pollution and consuming by the population it has today.

    Rick, get your nose out of that one book and take an honest look at the state of your planet for once. Ignoring what you don't want to face won't be a useful tool in the Oval Office.

  • cj on January 16, 2012 12:13 PM:

    "[Children are] the natural resource that creates wealth in this country."

    No, Ricky they're not. It is HEALTHY, EDUCATED, EMPLOYED people that create wealth in this country. If you propose government support for wealth creators I want to see more than forgiveness of a few dollars tax, I want to see you providing affordable (even free) schooling through college, health care and full employment so they can do their work of wealth creation at the most productive level.

    day selsomeo?

  • rrk1 on January 16, 2012 12:22 PM:

    Rick, get your nose out of that one book and take an honest look at the state of your planet for once. Ignoring what you don't want to face won't be a useful tool in the Oval Office.

    Get your head out of your ass, would be my advice.

    Santorum and his ilk view reality very selectively, and only in terms of their own racial and socio-economic status. Everything that challenges their idea of a perfect world is inconvenient, and is therefore ignored, or demonized. Santorum wants everyone (assuming they're white) to have his sense of morality, his lifestyle, his religion. Non-whites need not apply. Everyone else should be exiled to the outer darkness and sterilized. Somewhere. Far away. In secured quarters. Maybe dead.

    Like Gingrich, Santorum lacks self-awareness, or the intellectual consciousness to understand he is a Fascist. He's worse than Gingrich because he's a true believer. Gingrich will say anything to rile up the base. Santorum thinks he's right, and that sort of moral certainty leads to a holocaust.

  • Stephen Stralka on January 16, 2012 12:26 PM:

    The idea of children as a natural resource is a little disconcerting. The image I get is Rick Santorum feeding children into some kind of huge crusher/grinder thing that turns them into dollars. But what's really demented is the idea that we need more people. Whether it's social engineering or not, any policies to actually encourage population growth would be criminal.

  • Goldilocks on January 16, 2012 12:38 PM:

    This is way beyond political or terminological niceties. The one thing we're not short of, nor will be in the foreseeable future, on planet Earth is human beings. OK, it's wonderful to have the opportunity to have a human birth, but the world we are creating for humans to be born into, at present, is something of a junk heap. We have air pollution, water pollution, land degradation, deforestation, climate change, starvation, oxygen depletion, species extinction, death of the oceans, widespread unemployment, poverty and debt - all because the human population has entered a catastrophic, exponential explosion (Google it and look at the curves).

    For "all these goofy GOP candidates plus their goofy ideas" to mouth off about hopes that Americans will have more babies is worse than irresponsible - it's verging on criminal.

  • boatboy_srq on January 16, 2012 12:42 PM:

    Say what you like about Frothy Mix on this (and I'll freely admit I agree with the post and most of the comments here), you have to give him one thing: he's the first pro-life candidate (at least that I've heard) to even suggest that post-birth foetuses have value, and that something should be done to help them. Even if this is a tax break and not a direct assistance program, it's a far cry from the usual protect-them-until-they're-born-and-then-they're-on-their-own approach the others take.

    Santorum's view may not be palatable, but it's far more rationally consistent than his rivals'.

    ... and Captcha weighs in with "oncertin Human."

  • grunmann on January 16, 2012 5:28 PM:

    "...They’re [children] the natural resource that creates wealth in this country..."

    Yup. Especially if they're mining coal at the age of 5.

  • mark on January 16, 2012 8:06 PM:

    So compulsive breeder Santorum would like for me to help support somebody else's children with my tax dollars? What a Republican he is!
    If he thinks our country needs more children, he should not be supporting those who wish to deport children. In fact, perhaps he ought to encourage immigration.

    But you know that every one of these children Santorum wants will be given a car as a graduation present, and traffic will be so much worse. I guess we just need more cheap labor to fill all those jobs waiting for us.