RE: Santorum Could Have Learned from Bush

Mark Stricherz is one of the sharpest political commentators around, and when he says here at CatholicVote that Santorum should have acted as George W. Bush did, we have to listen.

Even after listening, however, I find I can’t quite jump in that pond with Mark.

Now, what Mark is doing in his post is extending a thought from the always-smart Ramesh Ponuru, who said that Santorum had proved incapable of persuading a large swath of vital independent and right-leaning centrists—the voters necessary to win an election in America, even when the election is for the Republican nomination. Mark’s answer is similar to Ramesh’s: Ramesh said that Santorum should have been “as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves,” and Mark builds on this with the thought that Santorum should have adopted the rhetorical strategy of George W. Bush, who (on social issues) was “all action and no talk.”

Hmmm. Look, Bush wasn’t perfect, but he was effectively the most pro-life president we’ve ever had, even if he didn’t talk about it a great deal (or to much purpose when he did). He was, in actual practice, twice the pro-life president that Reagan was. Reagan talked a good pro-life game, but a lot of it was just talk. Talk, and no walk.

Except, I wonder, don’t we have to think about the consequence, as well: In terms of moving the nation in a generally pro-life direction, Reagan was far more effective than Bush. We need a president who walks the pro-life walk, yes, but there can be something very useful in talking the pro-life talk, even without the walk.

This is a clever point Hadley Arkes made, back in the Bush Administration—and if we use it to think about the current election, we end up with something like this: Rick Santorum certainly would have walked the pro-life walk had he become president, and he definitely talked the pro-life talk. He just didn’t do it effectively. He simply wasn’t the communicator that Ronald Reagan was.

Well, who is? Reagan was unique. It ain’t a serious criticism of a modern politician to say that he lacks something of Reagan’s rhetorical touch.

During the primaries, I argued that Santorum was merely using up resources—especially Catholic resources that could have been used to influence the campaign of the inevitable nominee Romney. Maybe I was wrong about that, or maybe I was right, but the point I’m reaching for here is this: I was more critical of Santorum than many of our friends, and, still, I have to say that this criticism of his pro-life work seems to me unjust.

Rick Santorum spent this year’s primary season seeking a vocabulary with which to do not the George W. Bush walk but the Ronald Reagan talk. He didn’t find it, and we ended up with the managerial Romney who will, I believe, behave much as Bush did on the pro-life issues. That’s a gain, without question, after the utterly opposite views of the current administration. But was Santorum wrong in concept? Wrong to imagine that we needed a voice in American public life which would speak to the soul of the nation on the life issues?

No, I can’t accept that. And neither, I think, should you.

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2 thoughts on “RE: Santorum Could Have Learned from Bush

  1. BAM in RI says:

    You say, that George W Bush was effectively the most pro-life president we have ever had? I would disagree! How many people in Iraq and Afghanistan are today dead because of the wars George W Bush started, and from which we are now trying to extricate ourselves from?

    1. FriarTom OFS says:

      President Bush was effectively anti-abortion.

      While abortion is, and should be, first and formost when it comes to the pro-life banner, it is NOT the whole banner. While I disagree with Bam that President Bush started the war in Afghanistan – that “honor” belongs to the late Mr. bin Laden – he most certainly did start the war in Iraq with questionable reasoning/evidence and against the pleadings of many world leaders, including Blessed John Paul II.

      During Bush’s tenure as Governor in Texas, over 150 executions took place. Then-Governor Bush signed more execution warrants than any Governor in the history of Texas. These actions do not reflect a “culture of life”, in my opinion.

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