Rick Santorum's Blue Collar Conservatism

Posted: Apr 28, 2014 11:06 AM
Rick Santorum's Blue Collar Conservatism

Former-Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) shocked the political world in 2012 by winning the Iowa Caucuses and establishing himself as the most credible conservative alternative to the eventual Republican presidential nominee, former-Gov. Mitt Romney.

Now in the private sector, Santorum's new book, “Blue Collar Conservatives: Recommitting to an America That Works,” goes on sale today. Conn Carroll recently interviewed Santorum about his new book, the 2012 race, his plans for 2016, and the future of the Republican Party for the May issue of Townhall Magazine.

Carroll: Why did you write “Blue Collar Conservatives”?

Santorum: Because I had a sense that, coming from a blue collar town, and understanding folks who work for a living, the service industry and manufacturing, and having grown up in that community, and listening to both parties talk about what they are going to do to help the economy, or what they are going to do to help people get jobs, it was apparent to me that they weren’t speaking to the very people that I grew up with.

I felt that we needed to have a message that’s not ‘cut taxes for high income people and employers and then cut benefits for people that receive some sort of government benefit and balance the budget.’ That message doesn’t speak to anybody who is either an employee or is receiving government benefits. So what do we have for them? What ideas are we going to have to create a better and stronger opportunity for them to be able to get jobs that are family sustaining, that are stable and secure?

And I thought if Republicans don’t include average working people as part of our team, then we know what the other side is going to do. They are just going to promise benefits to everybody. They are going to promise money.

I think most folks understand, no matter what income level you are, that those policies are not going to make you happy and are not a long-term successful strategy.

But it is better than nothing. And that is what Republicans have been offering: nothing. We need to offer something for those of us who are average working Americans.

Carroll: In your book, you say that “Governor Romney is as fine a man as I know” but you also said that “as a venture capitalist” he was the “perfect opponent” for Obama in 2012. And it is true. Romney did have trouble overcoming his image as a man of Wall Street. For me, one of the most distressing moments of the campaign was the morning after Romney won Florida, I don’t know if you remember this, he flat out told CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, “I’m not concerned about the very poor.” Given that, what kind of person should Republicans be looking for in 2016?

Santorum: First, I would say that Gov. Romney is a good man. I think he does care about people. I think that was an unfortunate statement on his part. But he was the caricature of what Obama had spent four years trying to construct, which is the 99 versus the 1 percent. The us versus them. Wall Street versus the rest of the country and Main Street.

So one of the reasons that I felt compelled to run was to run for Main Street. To run talking about Main Street values and talking about the importance of helping people in the middle of America rise and succeed and to have a stability and security in their lives.

And so I think that message of supporting manufacturing, supporting jobs that are not necessarily designed for the 30 percent of people in this country who go to college, but for the 70 percent of the people who have skills and training, but don’t have that college degree, but still have the ability to do valuable work, and receive compensation that can sustain a family.

So that’s who I would focus in on. If I was a Republican voter I’d be looking at someone who communicated with those workers and make sure that they are part of our team.

Carroll: You also note in the book that “there was a time not long ago when Americans without college degrees could expect to earn a decent and steady income in exchange for hard work.” Do you think we can get back to that time? Or do you think most Americans will need college degrees in the future? Or do you see alternatives to college degrees?

Santorum: There are a lot of alternatives to college. That it is the answer. People can get the skills training necessary to do jobs that don’t require four years of liberal arts education. And the majority of colleges right now are giving educations that exercise some portion of your mind, but the jobs that I think will be family sustaining jobs of the future are jobs that use both your hands and your mind. And thus in some respects more challenging than some of the jobs that you get coming out of college today. So, these are not lower position jobs. These are good jobs that require skills but not necessarily the need for a four- year college degree. And there are a lot of people who I think hopefully will be looking at raising their skill level up to meet the needs of the manufacturing world that is here already.

Carroll: In “Blue Collar Conservatives” you write, “The poorest kids in San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and Salt Lake City, for example, are more than twice as likely to reach the highest income percentiles as those in Dayton, St. Louis, and Charlotte.” Why do you think we have this widening gap in the country between urban and rural areas? Do you think that is reversible?

Santorum: If you look at where poverty is the highest, where the unemployment rate is the highest, it’s predominantly in rural areas. It’s not necessarily where most people would think it is. When most people think of poverty, they think of inner-city areas like Detroit or Philadelphia. But where the poverty is most acute is in rural areas, and there you are really going to have to look at the policies of the government and what they have done to create that disparity.

Certainly a big part of it is the environmental movement and the turn against a resource-based economy. And so you look at whether it is timber or whether it is mining or whether it is agriculture, there is a whole host of other things like manufacturing. Manufacturing is pre- dominantly done outside of the urban core of most cities.

And all of these sectors of the economy have been very much under assault from the environmentalists. And therefore there is a lack of opportunity. And because of the nature of the community, small town America doesn’t have a lot of options. Whereas in urban America there is a huge city around you. There are all sorts of places you can go for job opportunities that you don’t necessarily have in small-town or rural America.

Carroll: Another big focus of your book is overcoming poverty through marriage. But you also make it clear in your book that you do not blame the “breakdown of marriage and the family on the same-sex marriage movement.” And you express frustration about being “pigeonholed” as the “social conservative” candidate in 2012. Do you believe there is a way for Republicans, going forward, to talk about marriage without being pigeonholed as social conservatives?

Santorum: I think there is. And I am hopeful that some of the conversation that I have in the book begins that migration. I’m not interested in talking and debating on a national scale the issue of marriage other than what the benefits of marriage are and how valuable it is for mothers and fathers to bond together in a healthy relationship. Arthur Brooks has written a great book about happiness. The happiest people in America are married people, not single people. The most successful children in America are children that are raised by mothers and fathers. The communities that are most stable and prosperous have mothers and fathers in the home. Education is better, poverty is down, crime is down.

You look at all of these things, marriage is a public good. And so I think the argument that we should focus on is on reclaiming marriage. And the government should have a role in that. The government shouldn’t be neutral.

And right now we do things to discourage marriage, most of which are part of the anti-poverty programs and the tax policies that discourage single mothers from marrying.

I use the example in the book of a state senator, Glenn Grothman in Wisconsin, who showed me an analysis he had done, which is that if you are a single mother with two children and make $15,000 a year you got $38,000 in welfare benefits from the state of Wisconsin.

Well, if you were to marry, your new husband would have to make at least $50,000 a year for that mother to break even. That’s a barrier to marriage. Because there are not a lot of folks in that situation that can find someone making $50,000 a year. It’s a barrier. Economic decisions are made to cohabitate instead of marry. And those are unstable relation- ships that are not necessarily beneficial for children and the list goes on and on.

So government should not get in the way. But also government should be an advocate for it like they are for other things in society like not smoking, not drinking sugary drinks, things we know are good for public health. And marriage is good for public health.

Carroll: But if the government is going to start advocating for marriage, wouldn’t that then invite liberals to push for the government promoting same-sex marriage as well?

Santorum: If you listen to the arguments that I’ve made, the arguments are really focused on the public benefits of men and women coming together to have children and raise those children with a mother and a father. And I think the evidence is overwhelming that mothers and fathers in a healthy marriage is the best possible place for a child. That has not been the case for other forms of “marriage.” I don’t think the data is anywhere near as compelling or, in fact, compelling at all.

So I think you have to look at it from the standpoint of what is beneficial and healthy to society as a whole, and government ought to be a proponent of those attributes.

Carroll: Did you see Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s comments about same- sex marriage in his state?

Santorum: I did not.

Carroll: Well there was a federal court decision on Michigan’s same-sex marriage policy, and when he was asked his opinion on the issue, Snyder said, “Social issues, generally, I don’t take a position. I stay focused on jobs and kids.” Is this a possible out for Republicans on same-sex marriage?

Santorum: No. We need to take the principled position of what is best for society. We can’t walk away from what we know to be best for society as a whole. And that is valuing marriage between a man and a woman and encouraging that type of behavior. And talking about the benefit to the society of men, to women, and to children.

I don’t know of anybody on the Left who goes out and argues that marriage is a bad thing for children. That if more people were actually married and fathers took responsibility for their children that our society overall would be better off. It’s not gonna happen overnight, but unless we begin to focus on this and value it and promote it...

And when I say promote it, I mean we encouraged businesses, well now we mandate businesses, provide health insurance. But for a long time you were considered a good employer if you provided health insurance. Well is there any reason we shouldn’t say, ‘You’re a good employer if you provide access to marriage counseling.’

That’s something that we could put up on the radar screen. I’m not for mandating it, but to at least talk about how that could be helpful to your business. To have people in more stable relationships and healthy relationships. To have better and healthier employees.

Carroll: Two more questions for you. First, as a journalist I am legally obligated to ask, are you running for president in 2016?

Santorum: I’m doing everything consistent with what I would do if I was going to run.

So I am not going to make any deci- sions for at least a year, and right now I am focused on helping... I’ll be in Iowa tomorrow helping a candidate for Congress. I am focused on my job in the private sector and staying involved in politics, but I am not making any final decisions.

I am engaged in the fight and will continue to stay engaged with that fight and will make a decision down the road.

Carroll: Last question, I caught your speech at CPAC, and my favorite part was when you talked about how politicians from both parties in Washington need to stop using the phrase “middle class.” Why must conservatives stop using that phrase?

Santorum: Because it is divisive. I mean the idea of class. If there is a middle class then there is a lower class and there is an upper class and there is a middle-upper class. That’s not who we are. We don’t believe in people being stuck in classes.

Classes are how the Marxists divide people with class struggle. As if people are sort of this block of folks. Marxists and socialists don’t look at people as individuals. They look at groups.

That’s not who we are in America. We don’t look at classes of people. We believe in the dignity of every human life, the potential of every human life, the opportunity for every human life.

So why do we talk in terms of classes of people? That’s what they do. They divide. They break people up into groups and have them fight.

Look at the atrocities that have happened in these communist countries. It is because they don’t value the person. They look at them as a group of people either to be supported or annihilated.

And that’s not how we as Republicans and we as Americans think. We shouldn’t use terms that are divisive. Let the Democrats divide. Let us unite.

Carroll: OK, one more question, last one I promise.

Santorum: OK, you lied.

Carroll: I did. I hope you can forgive. Thirty-second elevator pitch to Townhall Magazine readers about why they should buy your book.

Santorum: Because it is the future of the conservative movement and the Republican Party if we are going to be successful going forward.

We have to stop talking to ourselves and begin to talk to all Americans and let them know that we are part of their team. We are on their team and we believe that America will be better off if we join together in creating this bright future.