Kathryn Lopez

Perhaps it was the Reagan overload that got to him, but "Hardball" host Chris Matthews took time out from being vocally disturbed by most of the debate goings-on to pay a little tribute to the former Pennsylvania senator. Matthews, himself from Pennsylvania, with a brother who has long been active in politics there, has always been decent to Santorum, when many others haven't. Just Google -- or don't, especially not at work or with kids around -- Santorum's name and you'll see the kind of nonsense he has to put up with. It's a real injustice, considering that he has been a self-sacrificing leader of the kind I think most Americans want in government. And so, in the post-debate analysis, he got a few minutes, which he was clearly grateful for. Matthews said, in introducing Santorum: "I think you're very honest. I don't think you play any games."

Making the case for himself in the presidential race, Santorum said: "I've gotten things done, I've been willing to make the compromises necessary, but never compromises on principle."

When people talk about wanting Washington to work, I think this is what they mean. They want people there who know who they are, and are willing to work with leaders of different points of view to move the bar. That's not what President Obama did when he forced through his radical and unwieldy health-care plan. It is what Rick Santorum and others did when Santorum worked with Ted Kennedy and then-president Clinton to pass welfare reform (since rolled back by President Obama).

There is, of course, a certain liberation that comes from dismal poll numbers that lead people to underestimate your campaign. But this is who Santorum is. Anyone who, like Matthews, has watched him over the years knows that.

And it's attractive. Even to an MSNBC host who frequently disagrees with him. Even in a climate where 54 percent polled want every member of Congress voted out of office.

"Transparency" has been a buzzword in Washington for a while now. Anyone for a revival of "authenticity"? Not putting on a mask, just being who you are, unapologetic except where an apology is absolutely called for. Someday historians may trace its origins back to a little Reagan Library magnetism.

Kathryn Lopez

Kathryn Jean Lopez, editor of National Review Online, writes a weekly column of conservative political and social commentary for Newspaper Enterprise Association.