Thursday, February 10, 2011

Slick Rick the aristocrat

I don't know about you, but for me it's a weird feeling seeing Rick Santorum, the former suburban Pittsburgh congressman and Pennsylvania senator, as one of the folks interested in running for the Republican nomination for president next year. I understand that the Fox News Channel's "political analyst" is focusing on so-called social issues, specifically abortion and "Islamofascism."

Well, he certainly has the right to do so if he wants -- this is a free country, after all -- but considering his checkered political history I wonder why anyone would vote for him. Having seen his style up-close and based on his record, I'd say that he would be more a liability than asset for the GOP, which doesn't realize that yet, so desperate it is to anoint the next Ronald Reagan.

The reality is that, in his 16 years as a legislator, Santorum showed himself to be graceless, hypocritical -- and "entitled." It's the reason he's no longer in the Senate.

When he first ran for Congress, taking on a popular Democratic incumbent named Doug Walgren, in 1990 Santorum hammered home the point that Walgren actually lived in a Virginia suburb of D.C., and he rode that horse to victory. Four years later he won the Senate seat over Harris Wofford, appointed by then-Gov. Bob Casey Sr., best known as a staunch abortion opponent, after the death of H. John Heinz -- but in large part because Casey refused to endorse Wofford due to his wobbling on the abortion issue. His re-election in 2000 over former KDKA-TV newscaster Ron Klink, also anti-abortion, turned out to be quite close, I think 52-48.

During his second term Santorum, who by that time had risen to the No. 3 leadership position among Senate Republicans, began displaying all the trappings of a Washington "insider," leading to his downfall. In 2005 he billed the Penn Hills School District for cyber-schooling expenses; thing is, by this time he had moved his family of eight to Leesburg, Va. The district found out that he owned a vacant two-bedroom house in that Pittsburgh suburb that he used as an "official residence" but never spent any time there.

Recognizing Santorum's weakness, also in part due to his support of the war in Iraq and connections to the Jack Abramoff-fueled K Street lobbying scandal, the Washington Post reported that Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Committee, asked then-Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell who might be able to beat Santorum. He replied, "Bob Casey Jr.," then the state's auditor general.

"Get him," Schumer responded.

"But he's pro-life," Rendell protested.

"I don't care -- get him."

So the younger Casey became the Democratic nominee in 2006, and Santorum's response during that campaign was nothing short of hysterical, insulting Casey every chance he got -- I saw the faxes the Santorum campaign sent out, derisively calling him "Bobby" -- and trying to dominate every debate they had. However, polls indicated that Casey never had less than a nine-point lead, and he ended up winning by 18.

That's right -- 18. My sister-in-law, who lives in Penn Hills, told me whenever she went to vote that participation was very heavy, so disgusted with Santorum that a majority of other residents went to vote against him.

With that kind of history, I think folks need to rethink whether Santorum really is the best person for the job. I would want as president the person best able to run the country regardless of party or ideology -- but I don't think Santorum would be he or she.

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