'Where's the Spirit? Where's the Guts, Huh?'

The first time I met Rick Santorum was on a Saturday in August at a barn in Roland, Iowa. Not only did I meet Santorum, but I met nearly his entire family, who were traveling with him that week before the Ames Straw Poll.  There were maybe 50 voters at that event at the home of Scott and Susan Hurd, and I wrote:

While I have no firm estimate of how many eligible voters were in attendance, I can state officially that the number of kids was ginormous. Lots of big home-schooling families showed up – families with seven, eight, nine kids. Santorum is traveling with his own family of seven kids, so the super-size families certainly seem simpatico with the former Pennsylvania senator. . . .
He was quite impressive, and I very much agree with Santorum’s complaint that the media has unfairly ignored his candidacy.

That was more than four months ago and, unfairly or not, the media are still ignoring Santorum’s candidacy — except when they mock it, as liberal writers like Timothy Noah of the New Republic have begun doing:

Tim McNulty of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has a tongue-in-cheek “Daily Santorum” blog feature, just in case. And my former colleague at Slate, Dave Weigel, has started a “Santorum Surge Watch,” though I think he’s mostly kidding, too. In this environment, though, today’s wisecrack is tomorrow’s front-runner. Let the Santorum surge begin.

Keep in mind that Santorum is the only candidate in the Republican field who has visited all 99 counties in Iowa this year. He’s in Iowa today. He’ll be in Iowa tomorrow. He is going to be more or less a full-time resident of Iowa until Jan. 3, and you might think that would count for something in a state where social conservatives are supposed to be a key GOP constituency. Yet Santorum’s campaign is being treated like a joke.

Why, of all the main contenders for the Republican 2012 nomination, has Santorum never had his moment in the sun?

  • Theory One: Liberal media especially hate Rick Santorum because of his staunch advocacy of social conservative values, in particular his outspoken opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage. So the media are ignoring Santorum out of spite, and the lack of coverage is effectively suffocating his campaign. This is Santorum’s own analysis of the problem. However, liberal bias can’t account for why even Fox News treats Santorum’s candidacy as an afterthought, which brings us to . . .
  • Theory Two: Republicans have finally surrendered on social issues. Nearly two decades after Pat Buchanan declared at the 1992 Republican National Convention that our nation was in a “religious war … a cultural war … a struggle for the soul of America,” the GOP has grown tired of fighting a losing battle. Lawrence v. Texas settled the gay issue, Roe v. Wade is never going to be overturned, and there’s no point arguing about it anymore: America is now, permanently, a nation that doesn’t blink an eye at “Heather Has Two Mommies” or a million abortions a year. Not only is the economy the main issue Republicans are supposed to be talking about in the Obama Era, but the Smart People like Karl Rove and Charles Krauthammer seem to believe it’s the only issue Republicans should be talking about. According to this theory, Santorum is being punished by GOP voters for refusing to shut up about social issues where, as all the Smart People know, the battle has already been lost (if indeed the people in charge of the Republican Party were ever really serious about fighting such a battle).

Does Theory Two explain Santorum’s lack of traction in the polls? Has the Culture War ended in the unconditional surrender of social conservatives, so that whoever wins the 2012 Republican presidential nomination will have nothing to say on such issues?

Santorum’s low-budget campaign recently took out an ad in Iowa newspapers declaring “no surrender” on social issues, and none of the best-known spokesmen for conservatism — you know, the famous faces on Fox News — even bothered to notice. Have we now become a nation of sophisticated cosmpolitans, so that even self-declared conservatives are silent on social issues and everybody politely ignores those few holdouts like Santorum who didn’t get the memo?

Maybe. And maybe not.

Because I’m thinking of that famous scene in Animal House, after the Deltas have been expelled from Faber College and D-Day says to Bluto: “Let it go. War’s over, man.” Rick Santorum’s family-values supporters probably wouldn’t approve of Bluto’s memorably R-rated reply:

Over? Did you say “over”? Nothing is over until we decide it is! Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Hell no! … And it ain’t over now. ‘Cause when the goin’ gets tough…  The tough get goin’! Who’s with me? Let’s go! …
What the f— happened to the Delta I used to know? Where’s the spirit? Where’s the guts, huh? This could be the greatest night of our lives, but you’re gonna let it be the worst. “Ooh, we’re afraid to go with you Bluto, we might get in trouble.” Well just kiss my a– from now on! Not me! I’m not gonna take this.

It has long been my belief that the Republican Party keeps making the mistake of trying to be the Omegas — arrogant, privileged bullies — when instead they should emulate the defiant Deltas. Not necessarily in the sense of throwing decadent toga parties, but in the sense of having fun, confidently being themselves and thumbing their noses at the liberal Dean Wormers who enforce the “double-secret probation” rules of political correctness: “No more fun of any kind!” (Feel free to substitute bogus accusations of racism, sexism and homophobia for “fun” in that sentence.)

None of the developments in this wild and crazy year have so shocked me as the latest strange turn in the road to the White House: When the Cain Train ran off the rails — Herman allegedly “took a few liberties with our female party guests,” as Otter says in another famous Animal House scene — the surprising beneficiary was Newt Gingrich, the most Omega-like Republican candidate in the 2012 field.

Do GOP voters really want to nominate Greg Marmalard for president? I don’t think so. So permit me to play the role of Otter in that pivotal scene at Delta house: Santorum’s right. Psychotic, but absolutely right. I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part — and the voters of Iowa are just the guys to do it.

If there is anywhere on the planet where social conservatives still have anything to say about electing Republicans, it’s the Iowa caucuses, and there were two events last week that got my attention — first, Sarah Palin singled out Rick Santorum for praise on Hannity’s Fox News show. And second, Santorum was endorsed by Pastor Cary Gordon.

Pastor Who?

Yeah, I know. I never heard of the guy until he endorsed Santorum, but he’s the Sioux City evangelical minister who led a successful fight to defeat the re-election of three Iowa state supreme court justices who had voted to make gay marriage the law of that Midwestern land. Not only did Pastor Gordon endorse Santorum, but he recorded this 19-minute video explaining his endorsement:

Pastor Gordon might not be much of an Animal House fan, but he is in effect acting as the Eric Stratton of Iowa conservatives, providing the decisive approval of a madcap scheme proposed by the frat-house slob who, as we all know, is destined to become Senator Joseph Blutarsky. And the dramatic parallel is almost perfect, in that the major media seem to have decided for us that this year’s GOP race is going to be as orderly as a homecoming parade — “now that the GOP race has narrowed to a two-man contest between Gingrich and  Romney,” as Maggie Haberman of Politico said.

Really? Is that it?

The only choice is between Mitt RomneyCare and Newt the Scozzafava-Hugger?

Maybe. I dunno. I’m not one of those Smart People like Rove and Krauthammer.

Maybe social conservatives in Iowa are going to let Maggie Haberman tell them who to vote for. But forgive me for having the urge to walk into the five-and-dime store and ask the clerk, “Could I buy 10,000 marbles, please?” Because if the Iowa caucuses are the Faber College homecoming parade, then the Rick Santorum campaign is a float in the shape of a birthday cake, emblazoned with an immortal motto: “Eat Me.”

And if Sarah Palin should follow up her praise for Santorum’s consistent conservatism by answering the prayers of his supporters and actually giving him her public endorsement, she would be like D-Day inside the Delta Tau Chi Deathmobile: “Ramming speed!”