Prospects for Senator Rick Santorum's reelection bid are looking much better these days. Polls show that Pennsylvania State Treasurer Bob Casey's lead in their race has shrunken to about six points, down from well over twenty points a few months ago.
According to Pat Buchanan, tough ads that Santorum is running opposing amnesty for illegal immigrants are what have struck a responsive chord among Pennsylvania's voters.
But after watching last week's debate on "Meet the Press" between Santorum and Casey, I wonder if this can really be the whole story.
Given that the Democratic Party has put Santorum in its sights, and that this is perhaps the most watched Senate race in the country, I was amazed at what a singularly unimpressive candidate Casey is.
Perhaps Casey and his campaign staff have concluded that President Bush and Santorum are sufficiently unpopular that any warm body will defeat a Republican incumbent. After listening to Casey, I got the feeling that he's spent at most a half hour thinking about issues.
Given these difficult times, anti-incumbent sentiment is understandable. But it's simply irresponsible to allow challengers to get away with thoughtlessness. We should demand more than a beating pulse before we consider turning power over to any office seeker.
Russert led off his questioning about Iraq. I was waiting to hear Casey be Ned Lamont, taking on Santorum's support of the war effort. But, no, he's "not ready to abandon this mission." Does he support a timetable for getting out of Iraq? No.
I drew a little closer to the TV to try and pick up the alternative vision Casey was proposing, but could only glean that he wants to fire Don Rumsfeld and platitudes about accountability and responsibility.
About Iran, he agrees with Santorum that we should impose sanctions.
It wasn't until the discussion turned to domestic affairs that Casey distinguished his views from those of his opponent. He did this by making clear that he has virtually no views or ideas.
Tim Russert asked Casey what programs he would cut to balance the budget.
Russert again: "Well, give me a couple ideas. Which programs would you cut?
The current Administration and Congress can be legitimately accused of being responsible for going on one the largest spending sprees in our nation's history. Estimates are that over the last five years, spending is up on the order of 45 percent.
Casey's only budgetary advice with specificity is repealing the tax cut for those earning over $200,000.
But, unfortunately, Casey's one piece of concrete advice was the product of ideology and not research. According to The Wall Street Journal this week, new data from the IRS show that the tax cuts have resulted in high-income earners paying more, not less taxes. Share of total taxes paid by the top 5 percent of earners was 57.1 percent in 2004 compared to 56.5 percent in 2000. So, Casey's single idea would, in all likelihood, cost us money rather than generate revenue.
How about the nation's largest entitlement program, Social Security? Estimates are that unfunded commitments of the system are on the order of $10 trillion. This is why Bush tried to push reform, supported by Santorum, of moving to a new approach with private ownership and private accounts.
What's Casey's answer to this problem? Economic growth.
Even Tim Russert almost fell out of his chair: "So, so double the people on Social Security, and life expectancy approaches 80, and the solution is do nothing?"
When the question of making the morning-after-pill available over the counter arose, Casey finally had something clear to say. He's for it, while Santorum opposes.
But through what kind of reasoning does someone who is pro-life, as Casey claims he is, justify this position? He does it on technical grounds, buying the line that the pill is always a contraceptive and not an abortive measure.
To this I would say, technical issues aside, that anyone who truly is pro-life supports a culture of life. And I would say that anyone who appreciates and cares about what is happening in our poor communities _ sexual abandon, runaway incidence of aids, family life in disarray _ would not support the over the counter sale of this pill.
These are challenging times. Our future is on the line. Those running for office, incumbents or challengers, who are not serious enough to have clear, thoughtful ideas and a comprehensive vision to put before voters should be turned aside. I think Pennsylvanians are beginning to see that Casey is not serious.