Rick Santorum As a Dad

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Oct. 28 2011 4:06 PM

Rick Santorum As a Dad

I don't have kids. There's no real room for me to talk about politicians with kids -- it invites angry blog comments, and nobody likes that. And hey, this Rick Santorum campaign video is genuinely touching. But can we put our fingers on the unspoken oddness on display?

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 



There: You've watched the whole thing. Now, ponder a hypothetical question. You have a friend. Let's call your friend "Dan Savage." Dan has seven kids, and an eight kid is born with Trisomy 18. Doctors don't think she'll make it, and offer to help care for her as she dies. She survives. "We felt that we owed her the opportunity, a chance, to do as well as he could," says Dan.

"Great," you say. "So you're going to spend a lot of time with her at home?"

Well, no. Dan is going to travel America for at least 18 months, giving speeches and trying to publish a book. He feels that God wants him to. "I'm trying to walk in the path that God's leading me," he says, "and a big part of that is the responsibility you have as a husband and father."

That would come off as odd, right? There are lots of ways to spend your time, many that allow you to spend the time with your family. Why choose an option that puts you on the road most of the time? Switch back from the hypothetical to the Santorum case. Clearly, Santorum is implying that the best thing he can do for his family is to make America more habitable, more sympathetic, to human life. How far does a niche presidential campaign go toward making that happen? The temptation is to compare Santorum to Sarah Palin, who ran for vice president even though some naysayers said she should back off and spend more time with her special needs son. These are very different situations. Palin was on the Republican ticket, with even odds of becoming vice president and having a real impact on policy. Santorum is, and has been, running an extremely long-shot campaign. He probably believes that no other nominee has his commitment to life. But isn't there a trade-off? Are the needs of the many -- Americans who need convincing -- being served as much as staying at home would serve Santorum's family?

It's a legitimate question. The trade-off between staying at home and making policy is clear; the trade-off between staying at home and writing what Christopher Hitchens calls "unacknowledged legislation" isn't always as clear. Santorum spends a lot of time in his stump speeches telling audiences about how he influenced policy by giving powerful and consistent speeches in the Senate, but it's not clear that he's having any effect in 2011.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 


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