Speaking at a press conference during the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention in Richmond on October 9, former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum claimed that Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan “are certainly two of the shoulders that we stand upon as the Republican Party.”
Goldwater and Reagan, he said, “would be preeminent figures in the party” today.
Santorum’s claim was in response to a question I posed: “Would there be a role in the Republican party today for Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan?”
The question was relevant because Santorum has, in the past, rejected the libertarian values that Goldwater and Reagan stood for.
In a famous 1975 interview with Reason magazine, Reagan had identified libertarianism as the “very heart and soul of conservatism.”
Santorum, on the other hand, told Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio in 2005 that “one of the criticisms I make is to what I refer to as more of a libertarianish right,” arguing that some conservatives “have this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do. Government should keep our taxes down and keep our regulation low and that we shouldn't get involved in the bedroom, we shouldn't get involved in cultural issues, you know, people should do whatever they want. Well, that is not how traditional conservatives view the world.”
Reviewing Santorum’s book, It Takes a Family, Jonathan Rauch of the Brookings Institution concluded that “As Goldwater [in The Conscience of a Conservative] repudiated Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon, so Santorum repudiates Goldwater and Ronald Reagan.”
That’s why it’s doubly strange that, in his Richmond press conference, Santorum both embraced Goldwater as a “preeminent figure” and then denied the historical truth of Goldwater’s libertarianism.
(A "Washington read" of the It Takes a Family's index reveals that while Home Depot merits at least four mentions in the book, Goldwater is never mentioned at all, and Reagan is mentioned just twice -- as many times as twins Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen.)
In response to a follow-up question, as to whether Barry Goldwater’s libertarian viewpoints would [bear] a leadership role today, Santorum said, “Barry Goldwater evolved into a libertarian. I don’t think you would say that Barry Goldwater in 1964 was a libertarian. I think a lot of his libertarianist [sic] views developed over time and actually later in his life.”
That view is wrong, film critic Scott Galupo pointed out in a 2006 Washington Times review of a documentary of Goldwater’s life:
If you had one of those think tanky graphs that expand on the simplistic left-right spectrum, Mr. Goldwater's libertarian politics were remarkably consistent.
Not unlike his more successful legatee, President Ronald Reagan, he held fast to a few principles -- essentially, that the federal government should stay out of people's personal lives, but still be strong enough to kick the commies in the groin.
Later in his career, he took the same laissez-faire view on abortion and homosexual rights (issues, [George] Will notes, that didn't figure on the national agenda in the 1960s) that he took on economic entrepreneurship.
Despite his previous criticism of Goldwater (and, by extension, “Goldwater Republicans”) as out-of-step with the conservative movement and the modern-day Republican Party, Santorum told the Tea Party press conference that “I think the Goldwater conservatism of limited government [and] personal responsibility, is certainly still the core of the Republican party and I think the Reagan expansion of that into a broader-based coalition was something that has been important evolution.”
Yet as the Cato Institute’s David Boaz told me after he watched the video of Santorum’s most recent remarks, "Santorum in Richmond speaks of freedom, individual rights, and the dignity of the human person. But he has demonstrated in the past that he doesn't really mean the freedom to live your own life as you choose. He has denounced 'this whole idea of personal autonomy ... this idea that people should be left alone, be able to do whatever they want to do.' That's the American idea of freedom, but it's not Rick Santorum's idea.”
Citing two quotations from Barry Goldwater – “Every man, for his individual good and for the good of his society, is responsible for his own development” and “The conservative’s first concern will always be: Are we maximizing freedom?” – Boaz concluded:
“It's true, as Santorum says, that Goldwater's libertarianism on issues like gay rights and the separation of church and state became more pronounced as he grew older and wiser. Too bad most politicians only get older."
Given that Santorum has declared his interest in pursuing a bid for the GOP presidential nomination in 2012, he needs to take some time to reconcile his contradictory views and ask himself, are Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan’s shoulders those of giants upon which Republicans stand, or are their old-fashion views about individual autonomy, personal responsibility, and human freedom at odds with the 21st century’s Republican Party?
One hopes he will choose to stand on the shoulders of giants and that he himself has "evolved."
* * * * *
Santorum's complete remarks can be seen in this video:
Other articles I have written based on interviews and events at the Virginia Tea Party Patriots Convention include these, which can all be found at Examiner.com:
Rick Santorum assesses the Tea Party movement and ‘the moral challenge we face’
GOP candidate Chuck Smith says ‘our country is heading in the wrong direction’
Libertarian James Quigley takes on Rep. Bobby Scott in Virginia’s 3rd District
Radio host Herman Cain thinks ‘the Tea Party movement is awesome’
WSJ’s John Fund: Tea Party movement is ‘essence of American individualism’
Va. Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling: ‘pro-free market policies are pro-business policies'