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Right Turn
Posted at 08:00 AM ET, 05/08/2011

Rick Santorum ‘doesn’t understand America’

At the Republican presidential debate on Thursday Rick Santorum was asked about Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels’s suggestion that there be a social truce. Santorum answered, “Anybody that would suggest we call a truce on moral issues doesn’t understand what America is all about.”

That is wrong. In fact, it’s the precise opposite of what America is about. As a matter of political tactics you can think a truce is a bad or good idea, but it does not define America or our system of government.

You can look to the Declaration or the Federalist papers or the Constitution and make a principled argument that America is about individual liberty or limited government (which secures the former). But it’s not about moral issues or any issue.

Our country was founded on the notion that limited government (bound by the rule of law and hemmed in by the separation of powers) is essential to maintain a free, diverse and prosperous people. It is precisely because we disagree on so many issues that we support a political system that tempers majority control with individual rights. It’s not about one side winning on certain issues or even demanding that certain issues be at the forefront of our agenda.

Indeed, Santorum is advocating the primacy of “factions” — the conflicting demands upon the government by different interests. Federalist No.10 describes the danger: “A zeal for different opinions concerning religion, concerning government, and many other points, as well of speculation as of practice; an attachment to different leaders ambitiously contending for pre-eminence and power; or to persons of other descriptions whose fortunes have been interesting to the human passions, have, in turn, divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to co-operate for their common good.” Federalist No. 10 tells us this is what the Constitution will protect us from:

As long as the connection subsists between his reason and his self-love, his opinions and his passions will have a reciprocal influence on each other; and the former will be objects to which the latter will attach themselves. The diversity in the faculties of men, from which the rights of property originate, is not less an insuperable obstacle to a uniformity of interests. The protection of these faculties is the first object of government. From the protection of different and unequal faculties of acquiring property, the possession of different degrees and kinds of property immediately results; and from the influence of these on the sentiments and views of the respective proprietors, ensues a division of the society into different interests and parties.

This, then, is the argument for a government of limited powers, divided into three branches and balanced between federal and state powers. The Founders were aiming to minimize the damage that could be wrought by people so convinced of their own positions that they will override the liberties of others and inflate and misuse the power of government.

Moreover, Santorum’s comment is decidely un-conservative. I would commend to him (and Right Turn readers) an excellent discussion on this point from a 2009 Policy Review essay by Peter Berkowitz. Most relevant to the Santorum comment is this:

The principles are familiar: individual freedom and individual responsibility, limited but energetic government, economic opportunity, and strong national defense. They derive support from Edmund Burke, the father of modern conservatism, as well as from Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, and, in his most representative moments, John Stuart Mill — outstanding contributors to the conservative side of the larger liberal tradition. They are embedded in the Constitution and flow out of the political ideas from which it was fashioned. . . .

Elaborated and applied in the spirit of moderation out of which they were originally fashioned, the principles of a constitutional conservatism are crucial to the restoration of an electorally viable and politically responsible conservatism. To be sure, short-term clashes over priorities and policies are bound to persist. Nevertheless, rallying around a constitutional conservatism represents a wise and winning strategy. The nation was founded on its principles. Embracing them is the best means over the long term for conserving the political conditions hospitable to traditional morality and religious faith, and the communities that nourish them. It is also the best means over the long term for conserving the political conditions that promote free markets, and the economic growth and opportunity free markets bring. And a constitutional conservatism provides a sturdy framework for developing a distinctive agenda to confront today’s challenges — an agenda that social conservatives and libertarian conservatives, consistent with their highest hopes, can both embrace.

Santorum’s assertion, quite frankly, reflects a certain constitutionally illiteracy and is at odds at a fundamental level with modern conservatism. Indeed, since the presidency requires that the chief executive “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” — which presupposes one understands what’s in it — Santorum has in the most concise way possible demonstrated his lack of qualifications to serve.

By  |  08:00 AM ET, 05/08/2011

Categories:  Conservative movement, 2012 campaign

 
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