The biggest surprise of the current election cycle is the totally unexpected rise of Rick Santorum to frontrunner status in the Republican primaries, even though some of the things he has said recently would have to locate him a bit in the nutty corner. And herein lies the problem. Rick Santorum has not only presented himself as a religious fanatic, which is bad enough. He does not even live by the standards he so openly and daringly sets for himself.
In a September 2011 Republican primary debate, a gay army captain asked the candidates whether they would re-introduce don't ask, don't tell when elected and was promptly booed by the audience. Rick Santorum was the first to give a largely incoherent answer to the question and, more tellingly, failed to remind the audience of the service the officer was providing to the nation or thank the dedicated soldier himself. This could largely be seen as an isolated incidence, as the candidate later went on to claim, would it not fit into a pattern of troubling responses or rather the lack of a response. When a woman in an audience of a recent Rick Santorum campaign event suggested that Barack Obama might be a Muslim, Santorum did not see a need to correct her on that simple factual issue. Instead, he left the insinuation hang in the air, later claiming that it was not his job to educate his followers. Though, again tellingly, the erstwhile presidential candidate John McCain did take the time on his campaign trail to point out that he might have political disagreements with then Senator Barack Obama, but that he was certainly a patriot and a Christian. Santorum's relationship with truth is casual at best.
Speaking of the president, the problem with Barack Obama's re-election strategy of pitting 99 percent against the one percent of top income earners has always been that most people are more focused on their own lives rather than on that of millionaires who have simply managed to realize the American dream. But Santorum is using a similar strategy by suggesting that higher education is poisonous and snobbish. It is true that most people who go into colleges having faith are going on to question it, which simply is a product of knowledge and critical thinking and that in itself is a rather good thing. But receiving a higher education is part and parcel of the American dream, which, after all, is that one's children might have a better life than oneself.
The problem with the issues Santorum is raising is not that they are outside the American mainstream. The problem is that Santorum is willingly surrendering the only advantage he had over Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney has flip-flopped on more issues than even a journalist could possibly be expected to remember. But changing one's mind on a policy issue is sort of trademark in a politician. Rick Santorum, however, is doing worse. He has introduced himself as the one politician who stands firm on his believes. But he does not the follow the principles he claims to adhere to, instead he openly disavows them when a women in one of his audiences calls the president a Muslim, or when he tries to explain his endorsement for Arlen Specter. Rick Santorum does not flip-flop, its worse: he does not stand by the principles he presents as his strong-suit.