Senator Rick Santorum has written a very important new book. In “It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good,” the Pennsylvania Republican argues that the fundamental institution of society is the traditional, nuclear family. Healthy two-parent families, consisting of a man and a woman, are indispensable to creating a healthy, stable society. The title of the book is obviously meant to contrast with Hillary Clinton’s 1996 work, “It Takes a Village.” Clinton put forth a feminist, neo-collectivist vision of the family. She argued that children need to be raised by communities, rather than simply by families alone. Santorum offers a very different perspective: The primary responsibility of raising children rests with their parents and immediate family members, and not with the government or society. Santorum makes the obvious point that this traditional approach is rooted in human nature, and that it has served America well throughout its history. It is by preserving and strengthening the nuclear family that the common good is advanced
Santorum also sets the record straight on a number of issues, such as parenting, home-schooling, welfare reform, abstinence and abortion. Without mincing his words, Santorum contends that liberalism has waged a war on the traditional family. He believes radical feminism has eroded the dignity of stay-at-home mothers, and that more and more women are entering the workforce for social affirmation. He says that respect for stay-at-home mothers has declined. He rightly points out that radical feminists have largely succeeded in their “crusade to make working outside the home the only marker of social value and self-respect.” But Santorum warns that the price for this anti-family, anti-motherhood public culture is the well-being of children.
Santorum also criticizes the materialism that has eroded family values. Many families prefer to have two incomes and live more comfortably than survive more modestly on one pay check. This is especially true of middle- and upper-income families.
Yet if there is one issue the Pennsylvania senator stands out on, it is abortion. A staunch Catholic, he outlines how he became a key player in the pro-life movement. He explains that he was initially wary of getting involved in the issue, but dramatically changed his mind after hearing a powerful speech on the subject by then-Sen. Bob Smith, New Hampshire Republican. One of the most pivotal experiences shaping Santorum’s convictions against partial-birth abortion came when he and his wife were faced with potentially terminating his wife’s pregnancy when they discovered their baby had a rare life-threatening birth defect. The couple, however, refused to do so. They allowed nature to take its course. Unfortunately, the baby was born prematurely at five months and died a few hours later. He acknowledges that when a politician gets involved in “values” issues, the liberal media is very likely to label him as “intolerant, rigid, far-right, extreme, hard-line and zealous.”
Nonetheless, Santorum insists on holding his ground. He compares abortion to slavery, in which basic human rights are denied to the unborn—just as they were to black slaves in the South. He explains that the rights of the mother take precedence over the child’s in the same way that a slave owner’s rights superseded a slave’s. Santorum notes, “This was tried once before in America. But unlike abortion today, in most states even the slaveholder did not have the unlimited right to kill his slave.” He also criticizes Democrats for acknowledging the importance of reducing the number of abortions, while at the same time supporting policies that continue to encourage them.
The senator also lauds the merits of welfare reform. He argues that until 1996, the government’s anti-poverty efforts had been ineffective. He claims that both liberal and conservative proposals were inadequate in addressing the real needs of poor families and communities. As the co-sponsor of the legislation, Santorum realized that the best way to help people get out of poverty was to help them find work. As the Senate considers reauthorizing the 1996 welfare reform legislation, Santorum continues to argue for the virtues of work, dignity and self-help for the country’s underclass.
Critics of Santorum claim the book reveals he is a polarizing figure. They further argue that his social conservatism is an electoral liability, especially in a swing state like Pennsylvania. Democrats believe Santorum’s anti-abortion, pro-family agenda will alienate key constituencies that he needs in order to win re-election next year against his pro-life Democratic opponent, state Treasurer Bob Casey, Jr. T. J. Rooney, the Democratic Party’s chairman in Pennsylvania, released a statement about the book, saying Santorum is out of step with the state and “every Pennsylvania woman in particular should be offended.” Feminists also have slammed the book for supposedly denying women equal status and opportunity on the workforce.
Whatever happens in the election next year, Santorum has shown that he is a brave and principled politician. He is not afraid to challenge the prevailing liberal orthodoxy. He certainly faces a tough race for re-election. However, if he should win, Santorum will have established himself as a leading conservative voice in the GOP. This will make him a frontrunner for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination. Rick Santorum vs. Hillary Clinton—now, that’s a race I would like to see.