One of the little moments that stand out from my years of reporting at the White House and on Capitol Hill involved Rick Santorum.
I remember it to this day, because it was so genuine and, given what eventually happened, poignant. It helps explain why the people of Iowa gave Santorum his shot.
This is not an endorsement. It’s just something from my personal experience I thought might interest you about Santorum.
It was 2005, and George W. Bush had launched his controversial drive to reform Social Security, in part by allowing future retirees to place a portion of their payroll taxes in personal accounts that could include investments in stocks.
The Democrats were pounding away at Bush and anyone who suggested they might support the idea, frightening seniors with accusations that Social Security was getting “privatized” and offering grim prognoses of innocent seniors’ savings getting wiped out in the market.
Santorum was engaged in a bitter reelection fight for his Pennsylvania Senate seat, and his support for Bush’s Social Security plan was killing him.
Pennsylvania is teaming with retirees, ranking behind only Florida and West Virginia in the percentage of people over 65, and Santorum’s stand in favor of the accounts was the gift to Democrats that kept on giving.
As the point man for my publication on Bush’s Social Security drive, I was on Capitol Hill one day to cover a press conference by a group of Republican senators touting some aspect of the plan.
Not only was Santorum supporting Bush, but he was actually trying to promote the plan by putting himself before the cameras. Normally in Washington, even when someone takes a politically difficult position, they kind of sneak on to the floor to cast their vote – preferably wearing a full body burqa – and then scurry back to their office and hide under the desk.
Santorum was duly asked by one reporter why he was committing political suicide. Actually, it was more polite, like, “Isn’t this going to hurt your reelection prospects?”
I expected some kind of nonsense claiming that everything was perfectly normal aboard the Titanic and that iceberg ahead was a welcome diversion to be marveled at and embraced.
Instead, he was kind of sheepish, looking down, smiling a bit. He said something like “I really can’t worry about the politics of this. It’s the right thing to do.”
He really did. And it was clear to everyone that he was serious, since the politics of it were so bad.
And then he went on the be defeated for reelection.