WE ACTUALLY GOT ONE RIGHT!
Near the end of October last year, as the Republicans were discovering that their candidate debates were the hottest things on television, we stuck out our neck and said the following. It’s notable that this was during the rise and immediately before the fall of Herman Cain, remember him? Mister 9 – 9 – 9?
Here’s what we said at the time. “Another thought that struck us while watching the debate was that the longest shot in the race, among those on stage, Rick Santorum, was actually connecting to the audience by emphasizing family values —- remember them? Briefly, what Santorum was selling was pro-life, pro-family, homophobic, Bible-thumping fear.”
What we heard as he spoke then was a rustling in the grasses. People in the hall were nodding their heads while making approving comments, nudging their neighbors, beginning to sense that here, at last, was someone with whom they could connect. There was actually a little applause. Yes, he was wearing his sweater; yes, he was smiling. But most importantly, he was making a connection to the Iowa evangelical primary voter almost as though he held one tin can and by a very long, thin string was connected to each and every member of that group in the hall.
One could sense something in the air.
In the same broadcast, we doubled down. We said: “With the primaries moving up through perhaps even this year’s calendar – a redoubt of conservative evangelical Christians – being the nation’s first battle ground, we really could see an upset here. Mr. Cain is betting heavily on that state, but Mr. Santorum, rejected twice by his own Pennsylvania voters, may well catch fire in the Midwest as he couldn’t at home and surprise us all.
“Certainly he would pick up endorsements from Michelle Bachmann, assuming she can’t pull a double there, and even of Newt Gingrich, whose presence in the primaries is more laughable than real.
“With three weeks now between debates, a lot can change. Mr. Perry could retool. Mr. Romney could calm down. Mr. Paul could libertarianize his way forward.
“But it looks to us that the battle for Iowa is between a suddenly researched Herman Cain and a too little researched Rick Santorum.
“We’ve been wrong twice before. This could be the third time. But we’re bound to get something right, and soon.”
Well, we did!
Senator Santorum fell short of the grand prize by only eight votes, scaring the you-know-what out of Mitt Romney.
How he did it was by virtually living for a year among his Iowa compatriots, visiting all 99 counties in the state, and sounding completely unlike the other candidates. When Romney and Gingrich and Cain and Perry and Bachmann went into their well-scripted dreamscapes of what they would do as president, and came out sounding as though they were already part of the Washington establishment, as most of them are, Santorum talked about children, Church, right and wrong, the value of marriage, of loyalty and of dreams.
Now this is very old-fashioned stuff. Most Americans are fixated on jobs, on social security and Medicare, on improving our disastrous economy. Santorum did not neglect to mention these concerns in passing, but he stayed simple. Perhaps it was his tenure on the campuses of Iowa that led him in this direction, but of all the candidates on yesterday’s ballot, only Santorum had a direct line to his voters.
They WANTED what he offered, and what he was offering was a return to the old days, the old ways, the old moral and economic codes of years past. All they NEEDED was a messenger, and Santorum was that fleet fellow bringing hope.
To be sure he took the occasional shot at his opponents. But he also kept smiling, holding up his chin, remembering what life had been in the fifties when he was growing up. And as he traveled down memory lane, his listeners were at his side for every step.
How far down that path he can actually travel we can’t know now. Pundits are fond of citing his lack of organization, his lack of funding.
They’re also fond of pointing out that Santorum is more like Ron Paul than Mitt Romney. In this year, that may not be a bad thing.
Would he make a good president? Well, he certainly can look the part. But we suspect that his scrapbook of ideas and images is filled with just a few too many off-the-wall ideas to really convince millions of people to vote for him. And he hasn’t been extensively taken apart as he will be within the next few weeks.
Would we vote for him?
His social policies are dated and unpleasant if not dangerous.
And though we’ve said on earlier occasions that it may just be that not every child in America deserves to grow up to be president, this one might. It’s a long shot, of course, and we’re still holding onto the deed for the farm.
But we’re proud and somewhat amazed that we saw this coming when so few others did. And because we love what we do, we want to point out that “Political Safari” may have some redeeming social values after all.
I’m John Neufeld