If you were thinking, until last week’s Iowa caucuses, “At least I don’t have to know much about Rick Santorum,” think again. Santorum’s virtual tie with Mitt Romney makes him just about all that stands between Romney and the Republican nomination. So we all have homework to do.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that our assignment isn’t too hard: On economic issues at least, most of Santorum’s positions are familiar Republican boilerplate. He favors a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution -- limiting government spending to 18 percent of gross domestic product -- but the cuts in spending he proposes don’t begin to add up to a balanced budget, even if you generously interpret items such as “Eliminate outdated, ineffective and wasteful programs” or “Implement Strong America Now reform through Lean Six Sigma management process as a key engine for …,” and so on.
On taxes, like his Republican counterparts, Santorum takes a courageous stand: He’s against them. Ten of the 12 planks in the “Santorum Solution” for the American taxpayer are about the need to cut various taxes; the remaining two are about preserving tax deductions and credits. No one doubts the need to make the tax code more sensible and fair. Simply giving special deals to preferred groups won’t get us there.
In a departure from conservative conventional wisdom, Santorum favors a kind of industrial policy for manufacturers, giving them government help through subsidies and tax breaks of various sorts. This essentially amounts to picking winners, or helping losers (hard to say which). He believes it is essential for our long-term economic health for there to be a strong manufacturing base. As a child of Western Pennsylvania, he may well come by his position honestly. But it’s still wrong. A century ago, as manufacturing replaced farming as the dominant force in the U.S. economy, people were saying the same things about agriculture. And as the Obama administration has learned with Solyndra LLC, the government needs to tread carefully when favoring some industries or firms over others.
He is a strong believer in federalism and states’ rights, except when there’s an issue he really cares about. Most of the time, this means federal action to stop or change some practice or attitude he finds objectionable -- and sometimes it is even something most of the rest of us would object to, too.
We think he is profoundly wrong on most of these issues. But he is no hypocrite. He favors a “Personhood Amendment” to the Constitution (he’s big on amending the Constitution), which -- by declaring personhood to start at conception -- would override state and federal law to make abortion the exact legal equivalent of a mother murdering her child. This could mean a death-penalty sentence, in states that have one. He opposes stem-cell research, of course, as well as gay equality in marriage rights and in military service.
Santorum is no hypocrite, either, about his desire for a boisterous foreign policy. He frankly itches to join Israel in bombing an Iranian nuclear facility -- a possibility we should perhaps be prepared for, but not to salivate after. Oddly, he wants to end the post of ambassador to Syria -- not merely cut off relations or close down the embassy but actually eliminate the position, as if Syria didn’t exist. To his credit in the current atmosphere, he wants to increase foreign aid, especially to Africa. On the other hand, he also proposes to fire half of the employees of USAID, the federal agency that dispenses foreign aid, to save money.
The modern Republican Party, it is often said, is an uncomfortable alliance between social and economic conservatives. Santorum personifies these tensions. He’s for states’ rights -- except when he isn’t. He favors market forces over government intervention -- except when he doesn’t. It may be too much to ask that a politician’s positions be perfectly consistent. At least in Santorum’s case, they seem perfectly representative.
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