Saturday, January 07, 2012







Rick Santorum Is Something


I served with Mike Huckabee, I knew Mike Huckabee, Mike Huckabee was a friend of mine. Senator, you're no Mike Huckabee.

Rick Santorum is no Mike Huckabee (and Lloyd Bentsen probably never was a friend of Jack Kennedy, anyway), though none of the rest is true.        But it appears there are some in the media who are making Rick Santorum out to be the second coming of Mike Huckabee.         (Apparently, it's the second coming of someone else which is on the mind of the candidate himself.)

Blogging in the UK Telegraph, Dr. Tim Stanley, described as "a historian of the United States," calls Santorum a "working class hero" advocating "economic populism."       Charles Krauthammer says the Virginian  "participated in George W. Bush's compassionate conservatism."    Joe Klein refers favorably to "Santorum's brand of blue-collar populism."       The Daily's Reihan Salam, a regular on Up with Chris Hayes, argues "Santorum could shift the intra-Republican conversation away from pointless factional fights over border enforcement and the individual mandate toward the all-important subject of how to raise wages and household incomes."

And gushing after the Iowa caucus, CBN's David Brody summarized:     "And now here he is: The Mike Huckabee of 2012."

Huckabee once branded the Club for Growth the "Club for Greed," a characterization nearly as bold as it is accurate.       He is no genuine populist but may be, in a party devoted to the wealthiest 10% of the population, what passes for a rough approximation of a populist.   However, as for the newest heartthrob of many Repub conservatives, The New Republic's Simon van Zuylen-Wood explains

Since losing his Pennsylvania Senate seat in 2006, Santorum has used his connections to land a series of highly-paid jobs. Consol Energy, a natural gas company specializing in “hydrofracking” and the fifth-largest donor to his 2006 campaign, paid him $142,000 for consulting work. He also earned $395,000 sitting on the board of United Health Services (UHS), a for-profit hospital chain whose CEO made contributions to his Senate campaigns and which stood to benefit from a big hike in Medicare payments Santorum proposed in 2003. (Incidentally, the Department of Justice sued UHS for Medicare and Medicaid fraud during Santorum’s four-year tenure on its board.) Santorum also earned paychecks from a religious advocacy group, a lobbying firm, and a think tank. For pushing legislation benefitting UHS and several other companies, one ethics group named Santorum to its “most corrupt Senators” list.

Santorum has made his post-Senate career doing the sort of quasi-lobbying that helped sink Newt Gingrich’s campaign in Iowa. But in fact, while still in office, he was a central actor in an even more sordid venture: The K Street Project. Started in 1989 by GOP strategist Grover Norquist and brought to prominence by former House majority leader Tom DeLay in 1995, the K Street Project was a highly organized effort to funnel Republican Congressional staffers into jobs at lobbying firms, trade organizations, and corporations, while attempting to block Democrats from those same posts. From 2001 until 2006, Santorum was the Project’s point man for the Senate, while House Majority Whip Roy Blunt manned the House side.

In 2006, the K Street Project was effectively forced to shut down amid public outcry; the following year, an ethics reform law made such outfits illegal. But in its heyday, it helped create an unprecedented revolving door between the White House, Congress and K Street, blurring distinctions between Republican policy and corporate welfare. As Elizabeth Drew put it in a 2005 New York Review of Books piece, “Democratic lobbyists have been pushed out of their jobs as a result; business associations who hire Democrats for prominent positions have been subject to retribution. They are told that they won’t be able to see the people on Capitol Hill they want to see.” Nicholas Confessore, in a groundbreaking 2003 Washington Monthly expose of the Project, detailed the goal bluntly: “First, move the party to K Street. Then move the government there, too.”

At the center of all this was Santorum. According to Confessore, Santorum conducted weekly breakfasts with lobbyists, and occasionally Congressmen and White House staff, during which he attempted to match Republican Hill staffers with K Street job openings. As Confessore put it, “Every week, the lobbyists present pass around a list of the jobs available and discuss whom to support. Santorum's responsibility is to make sure each one is filled by a loyal Republican—a Senator's chief of staff, for instance, or a top White House aide, or another lobbyist whose reliability has been demonstrated.” The group refused to meet with Democrats, and threatened sanctions against lobbies that did.

Revolving door tactics, until then de facto lobbying policy, were formalized and transformed into a “pay to play” system by the K Street Project. In 2003, after the top post at The Motion Picture Association of America went to a Democrat instead of a Republican, House Republicans reneged on an impending tax break, hitting the movie industry with a $1.5 billion bill. After the Democrat was chosen, Roll Call reported that “Santorum has begun discussing what the consequences are for the movie industry.” (Santorum, though he often denies his involvement in the K Street Project, more or less confirmed his involvement in the MPAA flap.) Later that year, the Washington Postrevealed that the House Financial Services Committee pressured a consortium of mutual funds to oust a top lobbyist who was a Democrat in exchange for relaxing a pending investigation. After the smoke cleared, she was replaced by a Republican.



Quite the populist; quite the man of the people, and one who currently is in New Hampshire urging de facto cuts to Social Security.      He now is skimpy on details, but was not so when he ran (successfully) for the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania (a state he later would go on to serve from suburban Virginia), when he advocated raising the eligibility age "to at least 70."       That move would further impede the opportunity of young people to gain employment, increase competition for scarce jobs,  and lower wages, a (sarcasm alert) fine objective for a candidate who, Salaam imagines, is interested in "how to raise jobs and household incomes."

If Santorum has become interested in raising jobs and household incomes, it would be a complete reversal from his days as a U.S. Senator, in which he was in the grip of a generous corporate donor, the down-home, worker-friendly, small business known as Wal-Mart.      Opposing Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage. proposing to allow companies to restrict payment of overtime, and supporting repeal of the estate tax on multimillionaires (to whom it applies), Santorum exhibited the kind of "compassionate conservatism" guys like Krauthammer can warm up to.

Give the candidate credit.     While it's difficult to ascertain what the GOP's leading presidential candidate believes about anything, we know Rick Santorum opposes abortion, gay rights, and artificial birth control, the latter to the point of supporting a right of a state to ban its use.      He is not a populist, but being a fanatic should count for something.






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