This will be my last (and only) post about Rick Santorum, because talking about him now makes Mitt Romney look good, and that’s bad

'Le masque du clown (Comedia dell’arte)' by David JAGER on FlickrWith Rick Santorum’s “suspension” of his campaign yesterday, Mitt Romney is all but guaranteed the Republican nomination for president now (sorry, Newt) (oh, Ron, are you still here? Sorry, I didn’t see you way over there.)

Here’s my brief take on Romney: he is an out of touch buffoon, and the kind of elitist that Republicans usually love, unless they’re tryin’ to be folksy. He is also quite good at telling people what they want to hear. He morphed from a somewhat-centrist conservative to a faux-right-wing wackjob over the course of a few months, and presumably now he is going to try to dial it back. For my part, at least, I hope everyone remembers that Mitt Romney passed a bill much like Obamacare first, but at least Obama had the cojones to stand up for his version of health care reform.

I will say this for Santorum: he is principled, and he is (mostly) disciplined in standing up for those principles. I won’t call his principles “psychotic,” because mental illness is a real problem that deserves attention and care. Santorum’s principles are regressive, authoritarian, divisive, antiquated, unrealistic, misogynistic, racist, ethnocentric, heteronormative, homophobic, fearful, cowardly, inconsistent, hypocritical, elitist, ignorant, insensitive, oppressive, boring, prudish, and just plain wrong.

An article this morning at The Daily Beast by apparent-crazy-person Patricia Murphy purports to highlight Santorum’s strengths and outline how Romney can emulate them. It is a virtuoso performance of misused words:

As Santorum showed during his speech earlier, and Romney reinforced later, the GOP field has lost something very important with Santorum’s departure—a passionate conservative who speaks from the heart, talking not only about his own life, but the lives of people across America who face the same struggles. The GOP is now left with Romney, a man at odds with his party’s base, but more important, a likely nominee at arm’s length from his party’s heart and soul.

I really hope she defines “the same struggles,” because Santorum tends to speak for the dwindling evangelical white ostensibly-conservative faction of America, and few others.

Even as he withdrew from the race, Santorum framed improving the economy as a fight for a country like the one his grandfather left Italy for, when the American Dream was still possible, a country “willing to raise us up instead of trying to provide for us and do for us what we can better do for ourselves.” He also talked about people who have been left behind during the downturn: “Those who are out there paddling alone, who are feeling left behind and in some respects feeling hopeless.”

At first, I just assumed he meant that he had a grandfather who fought on the Italian campaign in World War II. Oh snap! World War II reference brings instant voter support, right? Actually, through the power of Google and an investment of fifteen seconds (less time than it took to type this paragraph), I learned that he probably means his grandfather Pietro Santorum, who left Italy for America in 1920. This was before Mussolini came to power and during the time the United States was gearing up for the Great Depression. I don’t know what the elder Santorum endured as an immigrant in the United States, but he probably had to deal with demagogue politicians seeking to exploit immigrant populations to score political points. That sort of politician is still around today. Let me think of an example…..Rick Santorum comes to mind.

With a set of core beliefs, it has been easy for Santorum throughout the course of the campaign to stay consistent. While Romney has been defined by the changes in his positions over the years, Santorum’s speech Tuesday was remarkably like every town hall he held in Iowa and like the speech he gave to kick off his campaign nearly a year ago.

There is nothing inherently wrong with changing positions on an issue, but it should be for a valid reason, i.e. new information or evidence, changing circumstances, etc. Romney, by and large, has not had good reasons for changing his positions, unless “this is what I think you want to hear” is a good reason (SPOILER ALERT: It’s not a good reason). Santorum, on the other hand, has had good reasons to change his position on many issues. For example, he would be entirely justified in changing his position on contraception on the grounds that it is the 21st century (or the fact that there are no valid non-Biblical grounds for opposing the legality of contraception, and even the Biblical ground is shaky).

As we all learned, painfully at times, from the George W. Bush administration, being steadfast and resolute does no good if you are wrong.

In June 2011, with his family by his side again, he spoke about his grandfather and the American Dream. He talked about “moral currency,” gas prices, the Obama administration’s record on federal spending, and “the rest of America out here trying to survive.”

It was that line, about “the rest of America,” that made Santorum’s campaign different from the others’ including Romney’s, then and now—an element of compassion that voters recognized and responded to and connected with.

I was smart enough to figure out that if I understood and felt at a very deep level what you were experiencing across America and tried to be a witness to that, tried to be an interpreter of that, that your voice could be heard and miracles could happen and it did,” Santorum told his supporters as he left the race.

Related to an earlier question, who does he mean by “the rest of America?” Does it include all women, not just evangelical ostensibly-conservative ones? Does it include even a single lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, or trans* person? What about blah people? Surely Rick Santorum has not forgotten about the blah people.

Rick Santorum never had a concrete idea for the economy, jobs, foreign policy, or anything else except regulating what happens inside the American people’s skivvies. Don’t give me any crap about compassion. He may feel things very deeply, but don’t believe for a microsecond that he has remotely the same degree of care or compassion for people who don’t look and think like he does.

The bad news for Romney is that many of Santorum’s strengths are hard to learn. Romney is never going to be born the grandson of a coal miner, and he’ll never struggle to succeed or survive the way so many Americans do.

But like Santorum and like Barack Obama before him, Romney can talk to people who are going through the fire, who feel alone or hopeless, and he can listen to their stories, understand their lives, and infuse his campaign with the humanity that has been missing so far.

If I had a bit more time, I would Photoshop Santorum’s face onto a picture of Loretta Lynn with the caption “Coal Miner’s Grandson,” but I’m not going to do that.

It’s still more than six months to the election. Barack Obama is far from perfect, but then any human being is far from perfect. Mitt Romney is below the median point of perfection and has been steadily digging himself downward. Still, it could be anyone’s ball game seven months from now. I don’t have an especially high opinion of people in large groups, as a review of anything I’ve ever written or said throughout my life will demonstrate. There is a good chance that the electorate going to the polls in November will include at least some portion of the people who did not know the movie “Titanic” was inspired by a true story.

Photo credit: ‘Le masque du clown (Comedia dell’arte)’ by David JAGER on Flickr.

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