Santorum, Huntsman and the future of conservatism
I love watching Republicans engage in class warfare. They condemn it as a sin when Democrats come within 100 miles of even mentioning the sharp and growing class inequalities in the United States. But when conservatives play the class card, they see it as a high ethical calling involving the defense of good and moral folk against the depredations of a liberal elite.
Blatant hypocrisy is instructive.
Rick Santorum gave by far the best speech Tuesday night after his boffo performance in the Iowa caucuses. Among the Republicans, he along with Jon Huntsman — and, yes, Ron Paul, who is really a libertarian — knows who he is and why he’s running. Santorum has a philosophy (and a theology) that holds his views together. It’s a retro philosophy but no less interesting for that. So comparatively speaking, he comes by his class warfare honestly, even if he panders shamelessly on guns and gays and talks about the strait-laced President Obama as if he embodied the moral sensibilities of Woodstock and Gomorrah.
If the Republicans want to have a genuinely searching debate about the future of their party, they’d send Santorum and Huntsman off for the long fight. Huntsman is a forceful economic conservative but also resolutely modern. He’s a defender of science, a hard-eyed realist on foreign affairs who rejects Santorum’s neoconservative moralism, and he speaks the policy language of an upper middle class that likes its politics to focus on deficits and our future competition with China.
Santorum is a Catholic of a certain kind, and it’s the most important thing about him. He’s on one side of a long-standing debate in the church about how to build a decent society. Social-justice Catholics (and I’m one of those) represent an older American tradition. We agree with more conservative Catholics on the family as an essential social building block but see capitalism as in need of regulation and correction if it is to serve the common good and protect the family itself. Many of us — and here we depart from the church’s official teaching — see gay marriage not as undermining fidelity and commitment but as encouraging them.
By contrast, Santorum is what Republican strategist Steve Wagner years ago called a “social renewal” Catholic. These Catholics see opposition to abortion as a foundational matter and opposition to gay marriage as essential to “protecting” the family. They view the federal government less as a guarantor of social fairness than as “inflicting harm on the nation’s moral character,” as Wagner has put it.
Huntsman’s core vote, such as it