Goodbye to Goldwater

Rick Santorum's Republican crusade for big government.

(Page 2 of 2)

Santorum seems to sense as much. In an August interview with National Public Radio, he acknowledged his quarrel with "what I refer to as more of a libertarianish Right" and "this whole idea of personal autonomy." In his book he comments, seemingly with a shrug, "Some will reject what I have to say as a kind of 'Big Government' conservatism."

They sure will. A list of the government interventions that Santorum endorses includes national service, promotion of prison ministries, "individual development accounts," publicly financed trust funds for children, community investment incentives, strengthened obscenity enforcement, covenant marriage, assorted tax breaks, economic literacy programs in "every school in America" (his italics), and more. Lots more.

Though he is a populist critic of big government, Santorum shows no interest in defining principled limits on political power. His first priority is to make government pro-family, not to make it small. He has no use for a constitutional (or, as far as one can tell, moral) right to privacy, which he regards as a "constitutional wrecking ball" that has become inimical to the very principle of the common good. Ditto for the notions of government neutrality and free expression. He does not support a ban on contraception, but he thinks the government has every right to impose one.

The quarrel between virtue and freedom is an ancient and profound one. Santorum's suspicion of liberal individualism has a long pedigree and is not without support in American history. Adams, after all, favored sumptuary laws that would restrict conspicuous consumption in order to promote a virtuous frugality. And Santorum is right to observe that no healthy society is made up of people who view themselves as detached and unencumbered individuals.

"But to move from that sociological truism to the proposition that the family is the fundamental unit of political liberty," says Galston, "goes against the grain of two centuries of American political thought, as first articulated in the Declaration of Independence." With It Takes a Family, Rick Santorum has served notice. The bold new challenge to the Goldwater-Reagan tradition in American politics comes not from the left but from the right.

Jonathan Rauch is a senior writer and columnist for National Journal, where this article originally appeared.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

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    I agree with much of what Santorum has to say on social/family issues. He is completely wrong (and I believe immoral) however on his interventionist foreign policy stance.

    Over the last 40-50 years 'big government' has been active in dismantling traditional families and so promoting policies that act as a countervailing force to those destructive policies are needed. Whether this is 'anti-Goldwater' as the author claims is another matter.

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    From the lack of recent comments, I'll bet that I'm not the only one who hasn't done their homework on Santorum.

    Ron Paul is right. This guy is a flaming, big-government liberal (oh, yeah, and a "social" conservative, whatever the Hell that means.) He's going to flame out faster than Newt. I guess the MSM will just need to call Mittens as the winner next week.

  • Wes||

    Inculcating or promoting virtue is not the same thing as imposing virtue, which is wrong. But just as it is wrong to impose virtue, it is also wrong to encourage freedom to do things which are wrong. Conservatism is and should be about both virtue and freedom. Virtue and freedom should reinforce each other. Conservatism and government should strengthen and promote not only the family, but also faith, community, and vocation. These are the four things that the ancient Greek philosophers believed that people received meaning in their life from. These are also the four things that Judeo-Christian philosophy and Western Civilization have as their foundation. So I disagree that importance of the family goes against two centuries of American political thought.

    Other than foreign policy and Social Security, the modern Republican Party is not really the Republican Party of Barry Goldwater. There is a reason that we talk about Reagan Conservatism, but not Goldwater Conservatism. Reagan won both of his elections by a landslide, but Goldwater lost his election by a landslide, with less than 40% of the vote. The base of the modern Republican Party is in the South. Goldwater won a handful of Southern States by opposing the Civil Rights Act. If he hadn't opposed the Act, he probably would've only won his home state of Arizona and maybe gotten less than 30% of the vote.

  • RMW Stanford||

    Santorum has a really bad record as an economic conservative. He has supported ear marks on a number of occasions. He also has a terrible record on trade. He has supported a number of tariffs that would raise cost on consumers. He sponsored a bill that would raise tariffs and then given those tariff revenues to a special interest group.


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