Michael Barone

It's unfortunate also since Santorum sometimes make similar points in a less inflammatory manner. On the stump, he often cites a Brookings Institution study that shows that virtually all of those who graduate from high school, get a job and marry before having children escape from poverty.

It's a valid argument, one made some years ago by my American Enterprise Institute colleague Charles Murray and emphasized in his recently published book, "Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010."

As Murray shows, much of the income inequality that political liberals decry results from bad personal choices and behaviors rather than the operations of the market economy.

But it's unclear what presidents, much less presidential candidates, can do to influence these personal choices and behaviors, beyond setting a good example in their personal lives, as Obama, Santorum and Romney all do.

"I'm not running for preacher," Santorum said in his Caffeinated Thoughts interview. "I'm not running for pastor, but these are important public policy questions."

But contraceptive use is not a public policy question, and in bringing the subject up, Santorum sounded like he is running for preacher or pastor.

Mitt Romney took a different approach when George Stephanopoulos raised the subject in the Jan. 8 New Hampshire debate. "Contraception. It's working just fine," he said. "Leave it alone."

Voters often say they value authenticity and spontaneity in candidates, and Santorum gives them plenty of that. And they admire perseverance in the face of adversity.

But they also want a certain amount of self-discipline in their officeholders, and particularly in their presidents, and they want them to focus on public policy issues they consider important.

At his best moments in the campaign -- in his Iowa caucus night speech, in the second South Carolina debate -- Rick Santorum has shown such discipline and focus. He needs to do that again.


Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM