Rick Santorum was questioned on Sunday about his 2005 book “It Takes a Family.” Was he trying to affirm women’s choices, as he claimed, or tell women they should be staying home? (By the way, although he praises his wife to the hilt in the preface, he nowhere says that she co-wrote any portion, as he claimed in his “This Week” interview.)

I’ll quote from the book at length:

Children of two parents who are working don’t need more things. They need us! In far too many families with young children, both parents are working, when, if they really took an honest look at the budget, they might confess that both of them don’t really need to, or at least may not need to work as much as they do. Some are working because they think they must buy their kids and themselves more things they “need” — instead of giving themselves to their children. And for some parents, the purported need to provide things for their children simply provides a convenient rationalization for pursuing a gratifying career outside the home. But in this world, at a time when it is increasingly difficult to raise children well, we should recognize that our kids need fewer things and more mom and dad.

Santorum does not discuss the idea that some women might find a calling outside the home — to run for president, for example — that they find gratifying and also rationalize is good for their society. Parents might shift the burden to one parent for some time, understanding that there will be times when the burden (even for a weekend) shifts back. He does not say how the materialistic parents he describes are supposed to decide when they have enough. When they have enough for private school? When they can live in a decent neighborhood? It’s not exactly “affirming” whatever choice parents make. In fact, the entire context of the book and this chapter is that parents should not do whatever they want, which is actually the opposite of his more campaign-friendly message that everyone should feel good about their own choices.

Let’s continue on in the chapter (my comments are in brackets):

Many women [did he talk to any men?] have told me, and surveys have shown, that they find it easier [really, women tell him it is easier to work and raise kids?], more “professionally” gratifying [why the air quotes?], and certainly more socially affirming to work outside the home than to give up careers to take care of children. Think about that for a moment. What happened in America so that mothers and fathers [didn’t fathers always do this?] who leave the care of their children to someone else — or worse yet, home alone after school between three and six in the afternoon — find themselves more affirmed by society? [Well, men have found it gratifying for generations so we should ask a few.] Here we can thank the influence of radical feminism, one of the core philosophies of the village elders [his term for liberal elites]. It’s ironic [especially since he gets affirmation every day from throngs of voters]. Radical feminists have been making the pitch that justice demands that men and women be given equal opportunity to make it to the top. [Shocking! Thank goodness there is one candidate — only one — who finds this to be problematic. I was worried gender equality was becoming the norm.] But they refuse to acknowledge, much less value as equal, the essential work women have done in being the primary caregiver of the next generation. [He’ s got a point there.] It seems to me that justice demands both fair workplace rules and proper respect for work in the home.

He goes on at some length arguing that feminism has denigrated stay-at-home mothers and that government policies have not been family-friendly. (I don’t disagree with either assertion.)

What is clear from this is that Santorum genuinely wants women who stay at home to be respected, and it is evident he is committed to improving parenting. But what is missing is some recognition that it’s not just greed or feminist brainwashing that has sent women out into the workplace. For the very same reason that he became a congressman, then a senator, and now a presidential candidate, women seek to make a difference in society, find intellectual fulfillment and enjoy the camaraderie of colleagues. There appears to be an underlying assumption running through his book that all that is excuse-mongering, at least when it comes to women.

There is nothing wrong whatsoever with ordering your life the way, for example, the Santorums do. The dad has a grueling and demanding job, is away form the house for long periods, and the mom, together with the older children, runs the house. What is problematic for a presidential candidate who is touting his ability to relate to average voters is that this all sounds (especially to female, suburban, and younger voters) like he doesn’t share their values or concerns. In fact, he sounds like he doesn’t have a clue what is going on in society. (Does he know how much college tuition costs?)

There are many ways, you see, that politicians can be clueless. Great wealth can separate them from ordinary citizens’ lives. A radical political view and living in leftist university towns or abroad can do that too. But so can having a value system that is so fixed that you fail to appreciate others don’t share your assumptions. Byron York, writing about the reasons Santorum lost big in his home state in 2006, cited policy positions and this: :

In the Senate as well as in his home state, Santorum often struck people as arrogant and headstrong, preachy and judgmental. Even today, he believes what he believes strongly and can sometimes become so involved in an argument that he seems focused more on winning the argument than reaching some sort of useful agreement. Throughout his career Santorum has always maintained that his forthrightness means everyone always knows where he stands. Sometimes that means people know they don’t like him.

Forget whether the pol’s views are right or wrong (as someone who stopped a career, took a break, and found a second career that generally allows me to be home between 3 and 6 p.m., I understand his point). If he sounds like a scold and a “for thee but not for me” sort, he’s going to find himself a lot less electable than advertised.