Thursday, October 06, 2005

Santorum Puff Piece With Cues To His Dark Side - Mentions Stan Rapp and Mark Phenicie

The Path of the Righteous Man: "ember 29-October 5, 2005

expressing Himself: Santorum usually wears one of three faces: the angry, flabbergasted one; the sympathetic, listening one and the toothy, cocksure grin.
Photo By: Michael T. Regan

The Path of the Righteous Man
How Rick Santorum became the nation's evangelical poster boy.

by Mike Newall

Rick Santorum is taking a piss. He'd been tapping his foot and fidgeting with his suit jacket throughout the awards ceremony, and after draping the last medal around the last neck, he waved to the crowd and quickly disappeared offstage, power-walking the long hallway and curving flight of stairs leading to the men's room here in the lobby of the National Constitution Center. A trio of the senator's aides and I struggled to keep up. Now we putter outside the lavatory, waiting.

I'd been promised some time with the senator once this ceremony honoring local students' public service achievements had ended. But things have changed. Santorum has been summoned back to Washington for an unexpected Senate vote. There is a train to catch. I'm to ask my questions on the eight-minute ride to 30th Street Station.

Earlier this summer, the senator was all over the airwaves defending his new book, It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, a 449-page tome in which he methodically lays out his provocative views on gay marriage, abortion, parenting and the role of religion in public life. Released on the eve of his re-election effort against Democrat Bob Casey, the book's timing confounded pundits. A November win would likely land Santorum the second-ranking leadership position in the U.S. Senate and help pave the way for a possible future run at the White House. But polls already had Santorum trailing Casey by 11 points, and here he was expounding on the very beliefs that were hurting him in the first place.


old school: A longtime friend says Santorum "wouldn't be the guy dating the senior queen, but he was probably friends with her."
: courtesy of Butler county eagle

What the heck was he thinking?

I went out and bought his book. There are some classic Santorum moments. Like on page 138: "The notion that college education is a cost-effective way to help poor, low-skill, unmarried mothers with high school diplomas or GEDs move up the economic ladder is just wrong." Or page 386: "It's amazing that so many kids turn out to be fairly normal, considering the weird socialization they get in public schools." At one point, he accuses feminists of hating women.

But there is no "man-on-dog" material here. Most of the book is spent attacking the "village elders" — Santorum's all-encompassing term for liberals, the media, Hollywood and the educational elite — who he says undermine the moral and cultural fabric of society. He advocates better parenting, faith-based initiatives, tax relief and measured government assistance to help rebuild neighborhoods, aid the poor and sustain traditional family structures (one man, one woman and as many children as possible). Some of it makes great sense; some of it is nonsense.

What's fascinating about the book — and what's arguably most intriguing about Santorum — is his sanctimonious, almost angry belief that he is absolutely, undeniably right. What people, places and events led him to such blinding self-righteousness?

To find out, I rented a car and spent a week crisscrossing the state, visiting and chatting with dozens of people from Santorum's past. I spoke to childhood friends and neighbors, college buddies and professors, former co-workers and ex-bosses, old drinking partners and an angry cousin. I attended the senator's public events. And the more I learned, the more intrigued I became. His past did not entirely fit with the great moral and religious crusader we know today. I needed to meet him, sit down, talk it out.

On the third day of my journey, while driving on I-76, somewhere between the outskirts of Pittsburgh and the dairy farms of Somerset County, my cell phone rang. It was the senator's press flak. The senator was willing to meet with me.

So here's Santorum, emerging from the men's room, sighing in relief.

He is dressed in a navy blue suit, pinstriped shirt and red tie. He is a surprisingly large man: about 6'2", athletically built with thick, rounded shoulders, and long, dangling arms. He has a prominent forehead and a smooth, youthful face. Boyish even.

Santorum usually wears one of three expressions. There's the angry, flabbergasted one — most often worn on talk shows or whenever dealing with a combative member of the press — in which his cheeks redden, brown eyes roll, head shakes and he huffs in amazement that someone has once again misconstrued something he has said or failed to realize that he is right. There's his sympathetic or listening face: jaw tightened, eyes narrowed, upper lip curled slightly into the lower one, head nodding in concern. And the grin, that toothy, cocksure, enigmatic grin that inspires such deep devotion and hatred.

I get the grin.

"Senator," I say.

He extends a hand.

It's soaking wet.

"It's okay," he shrugs. "It's just water."

We all shuffle into the elevator.

Santorum leans back against the wall.

"Go ahead," he says to me. And the elevator doors slide shut.

The Butler County Courthouse is built of 19th-century sandstone and brick, with spires and a tower, in which hangs a 2,500-pound bell that is still rung on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Across from the courthouse sits Diamond Square, the town center, where on hot, lazy afternoons like this one in early September, the three stonemasons working on the recently dedicated World War II memorial will lay down their tools and take their bagged lunches in the shade of the square's low hanging elm tree. Once a booming steel, rail car and auto-manufacturing hub — the first jeep was built here in 1940 — Butler, like so many small western Pennsylvania towns, has struggled as industrial plants have shuttered in recent decades. Drug abuse is on the rise. A new 800-bed prison is under construction. More and more for-sale signs hang in Main Street's storefronts. But despite its struggles, Butler still maintains a friendly, if slightly tattered, Rockwellian feel.

It is here, five and a half hours west of Philadelphia and 40 miles north of Pittsburgh, that Santorum spent most of his childhood. His parents, Al and Kay Santorum — who are alive and well in Florida — were employees of the Veteran's Administration Department and went where their work took them. The Santorums arrived in Butler via West Virginia when Rick, the second of three children, was 7 years old. The family stayed for 10 years, moving to Chicago the summer before Rick's senior year of high school. The family lived in a small red brick house on the grounds of Butler's VA hospital.

Larry Goettler, a tall, broad-shouldered man who owns the Brickhouse Restaurant on North Main Street, was a classmate and friend of Santorum's through Butler's Catholic elementary school and public high school.

"This is a middle- to lower-class town," says Goettler. "If anything, Rick was probably economically a little below the middle. They were good people, a well-principled, blue-collar family."

Santorum was a smart, outgoing kid who cut across social cliques, says Goettler. "Rick wouldn't be the guy dating the senior queen. But he was probably friends with her."

The social scene revolved around high school sporting events, says Goettler. "Plus, we'd drive around in groups of cars and hang out. But Rick was never one to be out late drinking or anything."

"I was on the basketball team with him. He was a second-teamer. Not much athletic ability but as much heart and desire as anyone on the team. He was not afraid to take it on the chin. Rick could take an elbow under the boards with the best of them. But he always got back up and kept playing."

Besides basketball, Santorum was the manager of the baseball team. Everybody called him "Rooster" because of a strand of hair on the back of his head which stood up, and because of his competitive, in-your-face attitude.

"He would debate anything and everything with you, mostly sports," says Goettler. "He was like a rooster. He never backed down."

Marie Rice was the chief of personnel at the VA hospital and a close friend of the Santorum family.

"Rick's father was the chief of psychology and his mother was the chief of nurses," says Rice, a gracious, white-haired woman who lives in a senior citizen's development a 15-minute drive along the winding, country roads surrounding Butler. "Kay, his mother, was the head of the family. She knew nursing backwards and forwards and wasn't afraid to openly express her opinions about what the other nurses should and shouldn't do. An extremely intelligent and fair woman. Rick's father was a very opinionated man. Kind, but you know how psychologists can be. They have their opinions and those are the only ones that are right."

The Santorums were a religious family and weekly attendants at Saint Paul's Catholic Church. But by no means were they fundamental in their beliefs, Rice adds. Nor were they a very political family.

"Politically," says Rice, "I would say they were straight down the middle of the road."

***

In a few hours, Rick Santorum will arrive here in Carlisle, a quaint, historical town located deep in Cumberland County, about two hours west of Philadelphia, for a rally in his honor. American flags and yellow ribbons decorate the cobbled streets. The U.S. Army War College is located here, as is Dickinson College, where in the mid-1980s Santorum earned his law degree. Nick Miccarelli, a tall, 23-year-old Penn student with Italian good looks, sits in his room at the Carlisle Comfort Inn, nervously giving his speech one last look-over. Nick and about 50 fellow College Republicans are here for their annual fall leadership meeting. They have also organized the Santorum campaign rally, which is to take place on the sunswept steps of Carlisle's Old County Courthouse. As chairman of the Pennsylvania College Republicans, Nick will have the honor of introducing the senator. He sits on his bed, curled over his speech.

"Rick Santorum is a winner," he reads, taking pains to accentuate key words. "Rick Santorum has the courage and the conviction to stand up for what is right."

Last night, Nick hosted an informal get-together in his room.

"We love Santorum because he's a fighter," said Nick in between gulps of a Natty Lite. "Some people don't like how frank he is with his opinions, but we know exactly where he stands on the issues and we respect that."

Santorum's college years were spent at Penn State in the late 1970s. But sporting shaggy hair and the occasional beard, he was far from a conservative ideologue.

He first got politically active as a freshman, when he volunteered on a campaign to satisfy the requirement of a political science course. He chose the only name he recognized, Republican Senatorial candidate John Heinz — the well-known Pittsburgh ketchup heir and first husband of Teresa Heinz Kerry. Santorum was stuffing envelopes one afternoon when a Heinz staffer asked if there was anyone who could oversee the college campus effort. Santorum raised his hand. By his senior year, he had resurrected Penn State's Republican club and become state chairman of the College Republicans.

"He was a strong believer in the big-tent approach," says Phil English, a U.S. Congressman from northwestern Pennsylvania and a College Republican with Santorum. "He was outspoken and aggressive but had a populist approach — less about issues and more about getting people involved."

"He had Republican values," adds U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, another college friend of Santorum's. "But it's not like he was running around leading conservative jihads or anything."

Santorum arrives at the courthouse rally dressed casually in sneakers, khakis and a blue button-down. Hootie and the Blowfish blast over the loudspeakers. The College Republicans swarm, starry-eyed. One flustered student in a blue blazer asks Santorum to autograph an upside-down campaign placard.

"If I sign this does that mean Paul is dead?" asks a smiling Santorum, in a Beatles reference that sails straight over the student's head.

Santorum's family is on hand for the rally. His wife Karen, a pretty woman with curled blond hair, stands smiling on the courthouse steps corralling their six children: Elizabeth, 14, the image of her father; John, 12, and Daniel, 10, reclining on the steps; cute-as-a-button Sarah, 7, and Peter, 5, twirling a branch snapped from the courthouse sycamore; and little 4-year-old Patrick, shyly holding his mother's hand.

The Santorum children are all homeschooled by Karen.

"We didn't set out with any grand of plan homeschooling," wrote Santorum in It Takes a Family. "[W]e couldn't find a kindergarten for our oldest child that we were happy with. A friend of ours suggested we give homeschooling a try. … It worked great with our oldest daughter. … Eventually, we took the same approach with all our children."

Just who should be paying for their home-schooling has become a source of controversy. Despite living in Virginia full time, the Santorums maintain a residence in Penn Hills, an upscale suburb of Pittsburgh. The Penn Hills School district has paid $70,000 to help cover the Santorum children's cyber schooling. District officials demanded Santorum repay the money since he lives out of state. Santorum argues his family is eligible for the allowances since he pays local real-estate taxes. The issue remains unresolved as the Pennsylvania Department of Education recently ruled that the Penn Hills school district did not challenge the Santorum's residency within the mandated time frame.

Santorum was working for the prestigious Pittsburgh law firm, Kirkpatrick and Lockhart, when he met Karen Garver in 1988. (While at the firm, Santorum represented the World Wrestling Federation, arguing that pro wrestling was not a sport and should be exempt from federal steroid regulations.) Karen, a law student at the time, was being recruited for a summer internship with the firm. Karen was a pretty, intelligent Pittsburgh native from a large Catholic family. The two quickly fell in love.

"Rick would come by the library at night and pick up Karen," remembers Arthur Rauschenberger, a Butler native and friend of Rick's who attended Pitt law school with Karen. "Before her, I know of one other girlfriend he had, a jaw-dropping blonde."


higher ground: Santorum says everyone brings a worldview to their job. He thinks most people's is framed by faith.
Photo By: Michael T. Regan

When she met Rick, Karen was living with Tom Allen, an OBGYN who in the early-1970s cofounded Pittsburgh's first abortion clinic. It was a somewhat unusual pairing. Allen was the doctor who delivered Karen. She began living with him while an undergraduate nursing student at Pittsburgh's Duquesne University. She was in her early 20s, he was in his 60s.

"When she moved out to go be with Rick, she told me I'd like him, that he was pro-choice and a humanist," said Allen, an elderly but vibrant man, during a brief conversation on the porch of his Pittsburgh row home. "But I don't think there's a humanist bone in that man's body."

Santorum has often said that at the time of their meeting neither he nor Karen were that devout in their faith. Upon falling in love, he says, they embarked on a soul-searching examination of their lives that brought them both closer to God.

A cousin of Santorum's with whom I'd corresponded over e-mail remembered Santorum becoming decidedly more serious after meeting Karen, whom he married in the summer of 1990.

"Rick was a funny guy," wrote the cousin. "He sported a bushy moustache for a time, wore Hawaiian shirts and smoked cigars. He liked to laugh, drink and call things 'horsey-assey.' He was very popular and fun to be around. I think the change happened when he met Karen."

Santorum's views on abortion changed around this time as well, recalls the cousin.

"Our extended family has many strong women in it, who are intelligent and outspoken. There was one year Rick stopped by a family reunion for an hour or two. It was around the time he was 'rising to power' and becoming rabidly, ridiculously conservative. His views on abortion were quite contentious that year, and for those few hours of his visit, the women all descended upon him like flies, calling him on his change of views. He had always been pro-choice to my recollection. That's why it was such a heated issue that year. The women in my family felt betrayed."

Santorum spends a full chapter of his book discussing his personal evolution in abortion.

"I was very much like most Americans and most nominal Catholics before I decided to enter public life," he writes. "I didn't like the idea of abortion — I knew it was wrong, but I wasn't sure if it was the government's business to do anything about it."

After deciding to run for office in 1989, Santorum says that he studied scientific and ethical literature on abortion. Plus, he writes, "one should never underestimate the influence of a spouse in politics." He came to the firm conclusion that "abortion was the taking of an innocent life."

Santorum gained national prominence in 1996 when he spearheaded the Republican effort to override President Clinton's veto of the ban on partial-birth abortion. Santorum writes that managing the bill was "one of the most memorable and transforming moments of my life." During the debate, a sonogram showed that a baby Karen was carrying had a fatal birth defect and would die shortly after birth. At 20 weeks, Karen lay in the hospital near death with a 105-degree fever. Doctors warned that Karen could die unless labor was induced — an option the Santorums considered an abortion since it would result in the certain death of the child. Karen went into labor before a decision had to be made.

Gabriel Michael Santorum lived for only two hours. The Santorums spent the night in the hospital bed with their lifeless baby lying between them. The next morning they brought the palm-sized corpse to Karen's parent's house. They had their other children pose for pictures and cuddle with Gabriel. They sang lullabies and held a private mass.

"I talked to Rick the night Gabriel died," says Stan Rapp, Santorum's closest friend. "It was obviously a profound tragedy he and his family had to deal with and at the same time he was handling every imaginable question from the media concerning abortion. I think he handled it with grace and class."

Karen chronicled both the pregnancy and the partial-birth abortion debate in her 1998 book, Letters to Gabriel: The True Story of Gabriel Michael Santorum. The book takes the form of letters Karen wrote to her unborn son.

"When the partial-abortion vote comes to the floor of the U.S. Senate for the third time," she wrote to Gabriel, "your daddy needs to proclaim God's message for life with even more strength and devotion to the cause."

Santorum did just that, appearing on the Senate floor with blown-up photos of fetuses and denouncing partial-birth abortion as "barbaric" and "legal infanticide."

Santorum keeps a framed picture of Gabriel on his desk.

"Life changes us all," Santorum writes in his book, "but often nothing like death. … After Gabriel, being a husband, being a father was different, being a legislator was different. I was different."

Here at the Carlisle courthouse, the College Republican rally draws to a close. The Santorum campaign is filming the event for a campaign commercial to be aired sometime next spring as the election heats up. Little 4-year-old Patrick becomes overwhelmed by the crowd and the cameras and begins to cry. Santorum takes his son in his arms and seeks out a quiet spot on the edge of the crowd, just a few feet from where I'm standing.

"You did wonderful," he says, hugging and comforting the child. "You're such a brave boy."

The cameramen pick up on the touching moment and rush over to film it. Karen follows and notices that Patrick's tear-streaked face is turned away from the camera. Karen tells her husband to turn around so their son can be filmed.

The senator obliges.

***

The ballroom lights dim. A hush falls over the mostly white, mostly gray-haired crowd. Theme music from The Natural begins to play.

The Pennsylvania Republican State Committee has gathered here at the Harrisburg Hilton to grant Santorum its official endorsement. A film documenting the senator's rise to power will be shown before Santorum takes the stage. "United States Senator Rick Santorum has certainly had an interesting and improbable career," begins the narrator.

Yes, he has.

After graduating from Penn State, Santorum went to work in Harrisburg for former state Sen. Doyle Corman, a moderate Republican and supporter of abortion rights. As Corman's chief of staff, Santorum was known for his intelligence and keen political instincts, more of a policy wonk than an ideologue.

"He had an innate ability of understanding politics," says Corman, a close friend of Santorum's, "and knew how to get business done."

Friends from the time remember Santorum as fun and outgoing but also extremely driven.

"We were single guys," says Mark Phenicie, who lived with Santorum in Harrisburg. "We liked to drink beer in the evenings."

"But Rick always knew what he wanted to do," adds Charlie Artz, another roommate. "He always had aspirations to run for office. If you asked me 20 years ago I would have figured he'd be governor now or pretty dag close to it. You could always tell the guy was special, that he was going to make something of himself."

It was 1989, shortly after meeting Karen, that Santorum first decided to run for office, declaring his candidacy against seven-term democrat incumbent Doug Walgren for the 18th congressional district outside Pittsburgh.

"I came home from work one day and he sat me down in the chair and presented his speech declaring his candidacy for the United States Congress," remembers Ray Conlon, Santorum's roommate at the time. "It took me by complete surprise. I figured he'd run for borough councilman or something like that first, but that's not Rick's style."

Santorum was considered such a long shot that the Republican National Committee refused to even make a nominal donation to his campaign.

"I was asked by some of the people in Harrisburg to talk him out of running," says Stan Rapp, referring to the state Republican Party leaders of the time. "There was a seat in the Pennsylvania legislature they thought he had a better shot at. But Rick said, 'No, I think I can win this.'"

Santorum enlisted the help and resources of the Pittsburgh media consultant John Brabender, who made the driving point of the campaign the fact that Walgren no longer lived in and rarely visited his home district.

An aide who worked closely on the campaign remembered Santorum as being polite and well-spoken but still very green. "One of the major issues he wanted to tackle was adding a sidewalk in front of the U.S. Steel building in downtown Pittsburgh," recalls the aide. "Rick had to be gently reminded that downtown Pittsburgh was not part of the district he was running for."

Karen welcomed coaching and instruction from the press handlers. "She was there to do whatever needed to be done," says the aide. "She was as driven, if not more so, than Rick."

To brush up on his talking points, Santorum listened to tapes produced by GOPAC, a Washington-based political action committee that trains aspiring conservative candidates. Lacking a field army, he appealed to the Christian right for help.

"Having returned to my Church after a period of absence," he wrote in one piece of campaign literature, "I now understand the connection between a personal, vibrant faith commitment and the moral fiber of our nation's needs. While I will represent all the people of my district, I will do so in a principled fashion, derived from my religious commitment."

Santorum beat Walgren by two points.

Democrats quickly realigned the 18th district to ensure that Santorum's victory was a one-time fluke. But he won re-election in 1992, and then ran for the Senate, defeating Harris Wofford — who had democratic operatives Paul Begala and James Carville running his campaign — in a race so close that it stretched into the early dawn hours of election night.

Once in the Senate, Santorum aligned himself with the far right and became a protege — some say lap dog — of Newt Gingrich, the ultra-conservative former Speaker of the House. As a freshman senator, Santorum made a name for himself by taking the Senate floor with homemade signs reading "Where is Bill?" during budget hearings, and was instrumental in the passing of the controversial 1996 Welfare Reform legislation.

In 2000, Democrats thought Santorum was vulnerable enough to be defeated by a second-tier candidate, U.S. Rep. Ron Klink. One Daily News poll published in the months before the election found that 38 percent of Pennsylvanians felt Santorum did not deserve to be re-elected. It was another bitter campaign. In one famous ad, Republicans implied that Klink had been sued for sexual harassment when in actuality a restaurant he partially owned was sued by a male customer angry over a female-only drink special. Santorum won by a six-point margin.

"Democrats scratch their heads and can't figure out why he keeps winning," says political analyst Terry Madonna. "They don't understand how someone so conservative and brash can win in Pennsylvania, a centrist, light-blue state where moderates prevail."

But, says Madonna, what you see with Santorum is not always what you get.

"Too much attention has been spent on Santorum as the cultural ideologue and not enough on his pragmatism and political opportunism," Madonna has written. "Inside this raging bull of a conservative is a pragmatist for whom getting re-elected always trumps ideology."


marching on: To win in 2006, Santorum needs support in the suburbs. He was in North Philly recently to visit Katrina evacuees with the mayor.
Photo By: Michael T. Regan

The facts support Madonna.

According to the National Journal, the mostly highly regarded scorekeeper on Senate voting patterns, Santorum had the least conservative voting record among the Republican leadership in 2004. In fact, 32 other Republican congressmen have more conservative voting records than Santorum.

Plus, Santorum is a prince of pork, having pulled millions upon millions of dollars of federal money back into Pennsylvania, which among other things have helped spur redevelopment in Chester. Santorum also has a successful track record bringing funding and assistance to faith-based anti-poverty partnerships in Philadelphia.

But to many voters Santorum's mouth trumps all. His more infamous quotes — "man on dog," blaming the clergy abuse scandal on "cultural liberalism," and most recently, his remarks questioning whether Katrina victims who stayed in New Orleans should be "penalized" — will all hurt him. His controversial injection into the Terri Schiavo affair, willingness to stay in lock step with the president on unpopular issues like Social Security reform and the war in Iraq, and of course his book, will also probably cost him some votes from of the highly sought-after Philadelphia suburbs, which Santorum won in 2000.

"You can't win a statewide election without winning the suburbs," says pollster Madonna. "And right now, Casey has a substantial lead in the suburbs."

Mike Bruton, editor of the Philadelphia Tribune, which endorsed Santorum in 2000, says that the book may have angered black voters who have supported Santorum in the past because of his stances on gay marriage and abortion. For one thing, says Bruton, he compares abortion to slavery, which is an "insult." Plus, he says, some blacks find it hypocritical that Santorum enacted welfare reform forcing single mothers to go to work, and then wrote a book calling for more mothers to stay at home.

The Tribune has yet to decide if it will once again endorse Santorum.

Some believe the book was an effort to build his national base for a future run at the White House.

"I think he wants to run for president," says Santorum's friend and political analyst William Green. "If he wins, he'll be a three-term senator from a very large state with a very large conservative base. I think that's what he wants and what he has worked for. I keep telling him, 'You're running for president, aren't ya?' and he just smiles." (Santorum publicly maintains that he is not putting together a presidential campaign for 2008.)

But first Santorum must deal with Casey, a popular Democrat with name recognition — his father was former Gov. Robert Casey — and conservative stances on abortion and gun control, which Democrats hope will sway moderate voters.

"The Democrats are so hungry to defeat Santorum," says Green, that "they have cashiered their basic beliefs."

The most recent polls have Casey pulling ahead in the polls by 14 percentage points.

Here at the Harrisburg Hilton, Santorum takes the stage to a frenzied round of applause.

"You have always believed in me," he tells the room full of supporters. "I know I haven't made it easy all the time … but you know where my heart is, now let's go get a big win next year."

***

The elevator doors open into the parking garage of the National Constitution Center. The senator, his aides and I pile into a black SUV that will shuttle us over to 30th Street. The senator sits in the passenger seat. An aide sitting next to me sticks a tape recorder in the direction of my face. The conversation will be taped in case I misquote the senator or take his words out of context. I interview the back of the senator's head. It is particularly angular and the cowlick is still prominent. It bobs from side to side as he talks.

"Everyone brings a worldview to their job," he says as we pass a black BMW convertible on I-676. "And it's framed by a variety of things. … I am very open about the things that have shaped me as a person and obviously they have an influence on how I see the world. Those who suggest that they're this objective almost robot — that their lives, their experiences, their faith, and all these other things have no impact on their decision-making, well, that's just absurd."

My journey had definitely brought me closer to understanding what experiences had shaped Santorum. In a way, he is still the same old Rooster from high school, stubbornly fighting it out underneath the boards, unyielding, uncompromising. But is he like my sister-in-law said the other night playing pool: "You know who Santorum reminds me of," she said, waving her Corona for emphasis. "He reminds me of the nerdy kid in high school who got lucky and said one thing the popular kids thought was funny. So he keeps saying it and saying it. And each time, he tries to make it sound funnier and funnier." Is she right? Did Santorum have the political foresight early on to realize that embracing the Christian right, and far-right conservatism, would be his key to higher office, the Senate and possibly even the White House?

Or is he just who he says he is: A guy who re-examined his life and social beliefs after meeting the woman he loves, a crusader for what he deeply believes is best for this country?

I read him a quote from his book: "Abortion is a toxin methodically polluting our fragile moral ecosystem. It poisons everyone it touches … "

I ask the senator if anyone close to him has had an experience with abortion.

"Well, there are a lot of people that I know who have been affected by abortion," he says, his voice reflective. "I think we all have, whether we know it or not. Most people don't go around and bring it up in casual conversation. But yes, I've had friends, and others, family and others…"

His voice trails off.

I ask him to talk about his family's experience with abortion and how it affected his worldview.

"When I make decisions from a public policy point of view … I try not to cloud it with emotion," he says. "While I've seen the impact, I try to look beyond that to what is rationally in the best interest of our society. There are a lot of bad things that happen, and you can't just let the bad things that happen give you a knee-jerk response to change policy." He goes on, "My responsibility as a legislator is not to impose some emotional reaction to a situation."

The senator is hungry and once we arrive at 30th Street Station he quickly seeks out the food court, hitting up the Oriental Food Fair for a to-go order of pork fried rice and sweet and sour chicken. He spots his opponent Casey, sitting in the food court reading over some paperwork with a few staffers. The two have not seen each other since Casey entered the race. "Well, what do we have here?" says the senator, jokingly peering over Casey's shoulder. They politely shake hands. "Good to see you, Bob. Take care," says Santorum, ending the brief encounter.

The senator stands beneath the hanging clock in 30th Street Station. His train is set to arrive any minute.

Running out of time, I ask him what misconceptions the press has about him.

"People tell me that I'm funny, that I have a good sense of humor, that I'm a pleasant guy. That's not how the media presents me. They present me as this real tough, mean-spirited, angry guy. I don't think that anyone who knows me or works with me would say any of those things. They'd say I'm hard-charging and passionate and that I take my job seriously… but I try not to take myself seriously. I understand that I'm here to do a job and I think you could do it with a good spirit and a civil tongue."

But what about all the things that you have said that have been so hurtful to so many people? I ask.

"Look," he says, with an annoyed laugh and a shake of the head. "People have to remember that politics isn't personal. It's just not personal."

With that the senator must say goodbye. The train is in the station."

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