Sussman: Missing Rick

“Sometimes there’s a man ––I won’t say a hero, because what’s a hero?–– but sometimes there’s a man who, well, he’s the man for his time and place, he fits right in there…”

So begins the classic satire The Big Lebowski, the only film of which I am aware that relates the absurdity of American culture entirely through bowling metaphors. It was a line frequently in my mind the past four months, ever since Rick Santorum’s improbable victory in the Iowa caucuses prompted the thought that he just might be such a man. The Iowa showing was a startling performance for a man once famous only because googling his name returns the result: “That frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex.”

Juxtaposed against the holier-than-thou Gingrich and wealthier-than-thou Romney, I took a liking to Santorum. It seemed Rick represented the only chance the nation had of avoiding a Presidential election that revolved around Romney’s absurd self-congratulations (he would like you to know that his 200 million dollar fortune has everything to do with his own hard work and nothing to do with his tycoon father), and a Gingrich-Obama showdown dominated by the former Speaker’s shameless ad hominem, pseudo-intellectual attacks (“Obama is so outside our comprehension that only if you understand Kenyan, anti-colonial behavior can you begin to piece together his actions”).

Rick seemed fun. Unlike most politicians, he was willing to talk about the hard issues. Take contraception (no pun intended): “One of the things I will talk about, that no president has talked about before, is the dangers of contraception…. it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Rick would know– by this account, he’s done the no-no a whole of eight times (the number of children dear Mrs. Santorum has been unfortunate enough to bear).

To some, a discussion of contraception missed the point. They wanted to lounge around like elitist liberal arts students and talk about the “real” issues– income inequality, climate change, health care access, the Afghanistan War. But what could not be overlooked in the contraception debate was Rick’s utter sincerity. He really does think about these things before going to bed (so do Swarthmore students, but we’re much more likely to be wondering if there are any condoms in the lounge cabinet).

I realized I’ll miss that sincerity that after he announced his withdrawal – not a technique Rick has tried before.

I’ll miss Rick’s sophisticated explanations for why gay sex should be illegal (it will “undermine the fabric of our society” and could lead to “man on dog” relationships. And you thought you didn’t want to be Mitt Romney’s dog).

I’ll miss Rick’s racial sensitivity, evident in his tireless effort not to drag race into clearly unrelated policy issues. Take, for example, his compelling arguments against President Obama’s stance on abortion: “I find it almost remarkable for a black man to say, ‘We’re going to decide who are people and who are not people,’” Rick told CNN News in January 2011. Of course, Santorum cleared up allegations of racial insensitivity a year later, when, campaigning in Iowa, he announced: “I don’t want to make black people’s lives better by giving them somebody else’s money; I want to give them the opportunity to go out and earn the money.”

It wasn’t just the nonsense of Barack Obama through which Santorum spent the last few months cutting. There was also his compelling critique of John F. Kennedy’s nearly universally revered speech on the separation of church and state, in which Kennedy heroically sought to move the country beyond its historic intolerance of Catholics with the powerful plea that “nobody asked my brother if he was a Catholic before he climbed into an American bomber plane to fly his last mission.”

Santorum offered his well-thought out reasoning on the speech last October: “I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up.” Vomiting – now there’s a public policy.

Of course, separation of church and state is merely one of those liberal values with which college students are audaciously indoctrinated. This brings us to how I’ll miss being told colleges are elitist liberal propaganda factories from a man who spent the better part of his twenties earning a BA, a MA and a law degree. This is to be added to the point that Santorum seems incapable of making a public appearance sans his now famous sweater vest.

This all said, we need not focus exclusively on Santorum’s diagnosis of America’s moral decay.

I’ll miss Rick’s no-B.S. policy suggestions on the country’s fiscal deficits, as in his spot-on diagnosis of Social Security’s budget troubles. While economists have focused on longer life expectancies and payroll tax exemptions on annual income in excess of 106,000 dollars, Rick cut right to the real issue: “The reason Social Security is in big trouble is we don’t have enough workers to support the retirees [because] a third of all the young people in America are not in America today because of abortion,” he offered at a GOP debate last May.

But most of all, I’ll miss Rick Santorum because, unlike the condescending plutocrat Romney or the devastatingly manipulative, illimitably solipsistic Gingrich, Rick actually means what he says. In a greed-based political culture, where campaign donations and high-priced lobbying drives policy outcomes, it was nice to have a candidate as genuine –even if genuinely absurd– as Rick Santorum.


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