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Rick Santorum gets much about America very wrong. But there’s one thing he understands that’s crucial to winning elections and governing effectively.

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Rick Santorum arrives at a Feb. 7 campaign rally in Blaine, Minn. (Ben Garvin/Getty Images)

Last week, Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski gave a joint interview to tout the Obama Administration’s newest initiative: the adoption of electronic textbooks in classrooms. The two pointed out the many advantages e-readers had to offer students, from their light weight to their advanced search capabilities, built-in dictionaries, and other helpful study tools. It’s an important issue. The advantages of e-textbooks are many and real. It’s good policy.

But as a political move, the initiative is a prime example of everything Obama seems to get wrong about voters: What Americans want is not a very smart president with many good ideas about everything from electronic textbooks to emissions limits. What we want is a decently intelligent president with one solid idea. Or, to borrow Isaiah Berlin’s well-known distinction, what we want is not a fox but a hedgehog.

The big idea we’d like our hedgehog to focus on is simple: community, or the belief that we are first and foremost a We and only then a collection of I’s. And the current presidential candidate who might come closest to embodying this solid idea—my hands tremble as I type this—is Rick Santorum.

Don’t get me wrong: I think Santorum is hateful. There’s no better word to describe someone who believes that homosexuality undermines the basic tenets of society, that the Constitution grants us no right to privacy, and who advised women who became pregnant as a result of rape to “make the best of a bad situation.” Electing such a man president of the United States makes as much sense as appointing Cruella de Vil to head the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

But there’s something about Santorum that accounts, I believe, for his recent success in the Republican primaries, something that transcends his mere appeal to the most zealous of social conservatives. In word and deed, he is largely committed to the idea that most Americans live in communities, that they’ve seen these communities battered badly by deregulation, global trade, and the other angry angels of the free market, and that no policy or political statement matters unless it’s directly geared toward restoring a sense of mutual responsibility and collective well-being.

A glance at Santorum’s record as congressman and senator supports this assertion. During his first term in the Senate, for example, he helped create the Job Access and Reverse Commute program, which puts the federal government in the business of helping low-income laborers find affordable transportation from their homes, frequently located in inner cities or rural areas, to their jobs, frequently located in more affluent suburbs. Many of his fellow Republicans insisted that such business, like all business, is better left to the private sector, but Santorum wouldn’t budge. He realized that jobs didn’t mean much if job-seekers had no way of traveling from home to workplace and that what job-seekers needed was a helping hand, not the invisible hand of the market.

Even though he’s recently opposed federal involvement in the housing market, Santorum had, when free of the attention brought about by a presidential bid, once supported it: In 2000, he wrote an article for the Notre Dame Law School’s Journal of Legislation advocating government assistance to middle- and lower-income households, be it via the Federal Housing Administration or the now-tainted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In 1993, he broke with his party to oppose the North American Free Trade Agreement and has frequently supported the imposition of tariffs on imported goods, from steel to honey. Even his early aversion toward Americorps, the federally funded community service program, eventually turned to unequivocal support: From mocking its participants, in 1994, as a host of kumbaya-singing hippies, he had gone to saying of them, by 2006, “these energetic, mostly young people could play an important coordinating role with community and nonprofit service organizations to help build up social capital.”

Building up social capital is precisely the point of all of the aforementioned policies. More than merely helping the needy, they all serve to give individuals a sense that government is there for them not as a service provider, not as an amorphous and dispassionate custodian, but as a manifestation of our sense of shared destiny. To build trust in government, it’s not enough to advocate policies that benefit the lives of individuals—which is precisely what Obama, more than any other president in the last five decades, attempted to do with his health-care reform. In response, he was greeted by the highest rate of voter animosity in American history—81 percent of Americans, according to a Gallup poll taken six months after Obama signed his health-care bill into law.

To repair this, the next president, whoever he may be, would have to convince Americans that he, like them, cares about building communities first and foremost; that, like Berlin’s hedgehog, should be his one big idea. Santorum fits the bill. With his serious demeanor and his sweater vests, he shares most Americans’ view that life is an irrational and shared pursuit whose ultimate goal is to stick together and care for each other. When he cries out against profanities on the airwaves, for example, he’s expressing not only some religious-tinted prudishness but also a sense of outrage, shared by many secular Americans, that an institution that once adhered to principles like the Fairness Doctrine has been corrupted by greed and government and turned into a vulgar and cynical enterprise with little concern for the public good.

On the other side of the ideological divide, we find mostly foxes, leaders whose expertise lies in knowing and caring about a great many things. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama—all different politicians, yet all celebrated for their penchant for policy and their belief that progressive legislation has the potential to target all society’s ills and repair them, one by one, patiently and logically. Foxes are rational animals, and they often offer good solutions to all sorts of problems.

But voters aren’t rational animals, which is why they often fail to see or support these solutions. This is why someone like Santorum resonates much better than someone like Mitt Romney: Beyond his wealth and his android-like lack of social grace, Romney is a fox through and through, a politician who takes pride in attacking issues individually and logically. That’s a great approach for a venture capitalist, a governor, a law professor. It’s a terrible approach for a president. Great presidents tend to be hedgehogs.

Leaving foreign policy aside for a minute, it takes no more than a moment or two of soul-searching to realize that this dogmatic insistence on community, this sense of sacrifice for the benefit of others, this investment in organizations dedicated to preserving the rhythms of life together is what we as Jewish voters have always been about. Beyond Republican and Democrat, beyond Israel and Iran, this is the message Jewish voters should sound out repeatedly and loudly: Community comes first.

And yet, herein lies the rub for Santorum. Once we agree on this principle, the policy prescriptions follow naturally: universal health care, the universal right to marry and adopt children regardless of sexual orientation, an end to discrimination of all stripes, strong regulation of predatory corporations seeking to corrupt everything for profit from our airwaves to our land, a mandatory or richly rewarded national service program. All we need now is someone to advocate these policies as an article of faith.

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We elected Obama because he was the physical incarnation of ” the belief that we are first and foremost a We”

Santorum believes first and foremost that the essential component of a thriving society is the nuclear family, a father, mother and children. He does not claim as the writer says,”community, or the belief that we are first and foremost a We and only then a collection of I’as thr preferred paradigm.” He does think that individuals are what has America great and not the the collective we of big government that the current administration advocates. Leibovitz’ far left ideas, if they become the accepted truth will spell the end of our nation and western civilization as we know it. The Judeo Christion ethic that was behind the great ideas of the founders of our republic and brought forth our wonderful constitution, is being sullied by the wrong headed ideas by those like Leibovitz.

This man has a sick obsession with sex and wants to govern the nation acording to the dogma of the Catholic Church. His hypocrisy is off the meter. I quote from a physician’s posting:

It wasn’t a late term miscarriage, it was a late term ABORTION

They conceived a trisomy (three chromosomes instead of two) 18 fetus, a chromosomal abnormality far worse than Down’s syndrome, with only a percent or two of its victims surviving beyond a few days. Their original plan was to carry the fetus to term, then render only comfort care after birth (as opposed to aggressive care to prolong life) so they and their kids could bond with the short-lived infant.

Unfortunately, trisomy 18 infants often have serious cardiac or urologic defects. In this case, the fetus developed urinary obstruction and infection, with Karen developing a 105 F fever and threatening to die herself from septic shock. Under these circumstances, the pro-life Santorums chose to induce labor at 20 weeks. No baby, even a healthy one, can survive at 20 weeks, and of course the Santorum baby would not survive no matter when it was born. The baby died two hours after birth and the Santorums took the body home (most normal families would have bonding time at the hospital, not at home with a dead body).

Normally, this would be a decision that most rational persons would make (to induce labor—-not to bring home a dead body). But when you are a pro-life former Senator/Representative and would-be President who has consistently backed anti-abortion legislation with no exceptions for the life of the mother, it smacks of hypocrisy in its purest form. In addition, it labels them as “cafeteria Catholics”, since when Karen’s life was on the line, they chose a medical procedure to end the fetus’s life in order to save Karen’s. (again, a decision that most normal persons would make, but this is a couple who have been knighted by the Pope and who seem to want one standard for themselves and another for the rest of us).

Alexander Diamond says:

Liel, you nailed it. Now how do we get this message to the president. We know he’s a bit slow sometimes so sooner is better than later.

This fails to point out that Santorum’s focus on the family, and how family members look out for each other in times of need, fails to extend that idea to the larger community and nation. Everyone outside one’s own family can go to hell. He is, simply put, NOT “civic minded.”

Linda Seligson says:

Rick Santorum understands “community”? Obviously written by a non-Pennsylvanian. If Santorum understood that word he would not have stuck the taxpayers in a Pittsburgh community for cyber schooling the many little Santorums living in Virginia instead of Pennsylvania. He doesn’t understand community any better than he does Judaism — affixing the New Testament to greetings to Jews — or malpractice — which he opposed until suing on behalf of his wife. I could go on but there isn’t enough room for this Pennsylvanian to relate all she knows and loaths about Rick Santorum.

You never mention the stand on foreign policy concerning Israel , Iran ,America and more by the candidates you are discussing .
Might be any body but President Barack H. Obama could be better suited to resolve what might be the greatest tragedy thiis world ever faced . A nuclear disaster .
This President has not the basic understanding of the dangers and neither have any of his advisers.

David Starr says:

Yes, assuming you think that the State empirically and normatively equals a community. Lots of folks don’t. That’s an important argument to wage.

Phil N says:

Or in the case of Obama, a president of questionable intellegence with a lot of bad ideas.

Alexander Paul says:

the universal right to marry and adopt children regardless of sexual orientation [WHAT ABOUT THOSE WHO ARE SEXUALLY ORIENTED TOWARD CHILDREN?], an end to discrimination of all stripes, [DOES THAT INCLUDE DISCRIMINATING AGAINST ASIANS TRYING TO GET INTO SCHOOL?]

Hershl says:

Thanks for this article. Very informative.

Kiotihere says:

Unless you’ve successfully completed an undergrad degree at a college at least as prestigious as Columbia, and graduated magna cum laude from one as tough and prestigious as Harvard law, you are in no position to call into question BHO’s intelligence, or the quality of his ideas. Chances are you just don’t have the ability to comprehend his ideas.

Kiotihere says:

Thanks much for your post re the Santorum’s abortion. But given the truth of what you say here, I’d say Santorum’s campaign positions re abortion rights is outright full-throated hypocrisy. It doesn’t “smack of” it—more like, stinks of it.

Sophi Zimmerman says:

Surely, you jest. If Rick Santorum cares about community, it’s the right wing Christian Community. He certainly doesn’t care about women, people of color or the working poor.


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Rick Santorum gets much about America very wrong. But there’s one thing he understands that’s crucial to winning elections and governing effectively.

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